FSO Safer

Long-awaited oil removal from ‘ticking bomb’ FSO Safer kicks off in Red Sea

The much-anticipated removal of more than 1 million barrels of oil from the decaying FSO Safer off Yemen’s Red Sea coast started today.

FSO Safer; Image credit UNDP

The ship-to-ship transfer of oil to the replacement tanker Yemen, formerly known as Nautica, which arrived in Yemen a few days ago, is expected to last 19 days.

The UNDP-led operation is aimed at preventing a major spill from the Safer, which has been at risk of breaking up or exploding for years due to a lack of proper maintenance.

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FSO Safer is currently moored about nine kilometers off Yemen’s Ras Issa peninsula, where it has been since 1988. The supertanker was constructed in 1976 as an oil tanker and converted in 1987 to be a floating storage facility.

FSO Safer has not been maintained since 2015 because of the conflict in Yemen, and it has decayed to the point where there is an imminent risk it could explode or break apart, which would have disastrous effects on the region.

“Following the successful mooring of the very large crude carrier Yemen (formerly known as Nautica) alongside the FSO Safer off Yemen’s Red Sea coast, our SMIT Salvage colleagues were able to take the final precautions, connect the hoses between the two tankers and start the ship-to-ship transfer of the approximate 1.14 million barrels of crude oil from the decaying FSO Safer into the replacement oil tanker Yemen. Pumping commenced on Tuesday 25 July at 10.45 local time,” Boskalis said in an update earlier today.

“The start of the ship-to-ship transfer of the oil, which is expected to take around two to three weeks, marks an important milestone in this United Nations-coordinated operation to avert a potential massive environmental and humanitarian disaster.”

Image credit Boskalis

The video below shows an animation of the oil transfer operation.

View on Vimeo.

Marine salvage company SMIT, a subsidiary of Boskalis contracted by UNDP to remove the oil, arrived at the site at the end of May to prepare the vessel for the operation, and has managed to stabilize the 47-year-old Safer.

Boskalis’ multipurpose vessel Ndeavor berthed alongside the FSO Safer in early June, after which SMIT Salvage took gas measurements to assess the presence of toxic gas in and around the vessel. After the ship was declared “safe to access”, a number of operational steps were initiated. This included loading of mobile inert gas generators and conducting inspections of the FSO and its deck machinery as well as structural hull assessments. Inspections of the deck machinery and the structural integrity of the hull have been completed as well.

Furthermore, the underwater inspection of the hull by a team of professional divers has been executed.

View on Twitter.

Two tugboats owned by Smit Lamnalco also arrived on site. These tugboats have assisted with the berthing of the replacement tanker on site. For contingency purposes, oil booms were installed as a precautionary measure during the ship-to-ship transfer of the oil.

“In the absence of anyone else willing or able to perform this task, the United Nations stepped up and assumed the risk to conduct this very delicate operation. The ship-to-ship transfer of oil which has started today is the critical next step in avoiding an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe on a colossal scale,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said.

“With every gallon of oil now being pumped off the Safer the threat of a potential spill that has loomed over the people of Yemen and indeed the countries and economies depending on the shared Red Sea ecosystem, recedes. The challenges on this project have been huge but the response by so many who have made this rescue operation possible has been equally huge. And it is a reminder of what the United Nations can achieve through its convening power and its capacity to coordinate a complex operation,” UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said. 

“The transfer of the oil to the Yemen will prevent the worst-case scenario of a catastrophic spill in the Red Sea, but it is not the end of the operation. The installation of a CALM buoy to which the replacement vessel will be safely tethered is the next crucial step. I thank donors, private companies and the general public for providing the funds that have brought us to this milestone,” the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, David Gressly, said while speaking from aboard the salvage vessel Ndeavor.

Mr Gressly has led UN system-wide efforts on the Safer since September 2021.

Once the oil is removed from FSO Safer, the plan is to tow the decaying supertanker to a green salvage yard.