Decaying oil tanker risks disaster in Yemen

UN to send experts to try to prevent environmental catastrophe

16 July, 13:42

    (ANSAmed) - ROME, JULY 16 - An environmental disaster is the making sits off the coast of Yemen. The oil tanker FSO SAFER has been left abandoned off the coast of the Yemen port Hodeida with its 1.1 million barrels of crude oil and risks sinking in the Red Sea. The result would be a humanitarian and environmental catastrophe, according to statements made during a UN Security Council meeting. The UN is prepared to send a team of experts to assess the situation. Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said in a briefing Wednesday that Houthi rebels had finally agreed to a UN mission on the oil tanker. The mission, which may take place in the coming weeks, will in the initial phase include a technical assessment and all initial repairs possible. At the end of May, water seeped into the engine room of the oil tanker, increasing the risk of the tanker sinking. ''Water coming uncontrollably into the engine room could destabilize the SAFER and potentially sink the entire structure. That would almost certainly lead to a severe oil spill,'' Lowcock noted, adding that ''the SAFER is carrying 1.1 million barrels of oil. That's about four times as much oil as was discharged in the Exxon Valdez disaster - a spill the world still talks about thirty years later.'' ''Fortunately, the engine room leak was relatively small, and divers from the SAFER corporation were able to contain it. This dangerous work took five days, with divers spending a cumulative 28 hours under water,'' he said, noting however that the repairs were only temporary. In the case of spillage, the coastal communities would be severely affected in Tazz, Hodeida and Hajjah, mainly in areas under the control of Houthi rebels, who are officially called Ansar Allah ''If a spill were to occur in the next two months, experts project that 1.6 million Yemenis would be directly affected. Essentially every fishing community along Yemen's west coast would see their livelihoods collapse and would suffer substantial economic losses. About 90 per cent of people in these communities already need humanitarian assistance,'' he noted. ''Sea currents and seasonal conditions also mean much of the oil would likely remain near Yemen's coast rather than dispersing widely. As a result, again as Inger mentioned, the port in Hudaydah could be forced to close for a period of weeks or even months,'' the UN official said. The country depends on the port for humanitarian aid and imported goods. The Yemeni government and the Houthi authorities officially requested UN assistance in March 2018 but had laid down conditions. Last week, however, ''we received encouraging news. Ansar Allah officials confirmed to the United Nations in writing that they are ready to authorize the UN mission to the SAFER. They have also communicated their intention to issue entry permits for mission personnel,'' he said, cautioning that in ''August 2019, we received similar assurances and, on that basis, deployed the UN team and equipment to Djibouti at significant expense. The Ansar Allah authorities cancelled that mission the night before departure.'' However, he noted, ''it is not too late, and we remain ready to assist. The UN team can deploy within three weeks of receiving all the necessary permits.''. (ANSAmed). (ANSA).

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