Environment – A floating time bomb: an oil spill threatens the coasts of Yemen – Wikipedia

SANA’A / DEN HAGUE (DPA) – The tanker looks terrifying. Swimming off the coast of Yemen, this 350-meter-tall giant, neglected, has devoured rusting reddish-brown steel.

Inside Safer: 1.1 million barrels of crude oil, so that the Red Sea and its coasts can be covered with black mud for hundreds of kilometers in the event of a leak or accident. With Wednesday’s conference, the United Nations is trying in a race against time to prevent an impending environmental disaster.

Environmental time bomb

The tanker has already been operating in Yemen since the 1980s as a fixed floating storage unit (FSO). It stored oil that came via pipeline from inland fields and then exported. But after Yemen descended into civil war in 2015, production and exports stopped. State oil company SEPOC halted expensive maintenance, and Safer was decommissioned in 2016 – with 1.1 million barrels of oil on board.

Meanwhile, the 45-year-old ship and its cargo have turned into an environmental time bomb. The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator in Yemen, David Gressly, warned that “the risk of a massive oil spill” is imminent. He predicts a “tremendous catastrophe” for the environment and people across the struggling country following years of civil war. The United Nations, together with the Netherlands, wants to raise funds at the donors’ conference in order to avoid the crisis in time. “We must act now,” said Kitak Lim, Secretary-General of the World Maritime Organization (IMO), before the start of the conference. “The time is now. The stakes are high.”

Thus, the United Nations needs a total of 144 million dollars (136 million euros). An estimated $80 million (about 76 million euros) would be needed to pump oil from the Safer to another vessel over several months. The old tanker is then towed to the shipyard and sold. After many warnings and delays, also due to the conflict, there is a move in the rescue plan: the Houthi rebels, who have controlled nearby ports since their advance in Yemen, agreed in principle to the UN proposal.

time is running out. Rust and delayed maintenance can lead to oil leakage at any time, or the gas accumulating in tanks may ignite and cause a major explosion and fire. After that it will take about a week for the oil slick to reach the shores. Already suffering fishing, the livelihoods of 1.7 million people, will now end, and dirty water desalination plants will put the water supply at risk. The important ports of Hodeidah and Saleef will likely have to close for several months. This would also be devastating for the country, which imports 90 percent of its food.

He fears a huge oil spill

Environmentalists remember the oil disaster with the tanker “Exxon Valdez” off Alaska in 1989. In a “safer” case, up to four times the oil could escape. Greenpeace anticipates a dramatic scenario for the fauna, flora and coral reefs of the Red Sea. The ACAPS Analysis Project estimates that a fire in Safer will contaminate 500 square kilometers of farmland. Soot will cover papaya, citrus fruits and mangoes and endanger corn, tomato or sweet potato crops.

Yemen can never afford to clean up after this $20 billion (€18.9 billion) disaster. An oil spill into Saudi Arabia and on the other side of the Bab al-Mandab Strait could have very different consequences: an important shipping route and access to the Suez Canal may have to be closed. For logistics and trade, it would be a dramatic rehash of the case of “Ever Given” – the container ship that shut down the Suez Canal for days. Twelve per cent of world trade passes through the waterway every day.

© dpa-infocom, dpa: 220511-99-241655 / 5

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