Photo: FSO Safer; Source: Office of UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen

New Dutch donation to bridge funding gap for UN’s salvage ops in Red Sea

Following delays in transferring the oil from a stricken oil tanker off the Yemen coast to a safe vessel due to lack of funds, the United Nations (UN) may be able to implement its plan to address the threat posed by this FSO after receiving additional funds from the Netherlands. This could allow the UN to prevent a catastrophic oil spill in the Red Sea.

The Netherlands disclosed on Saturday, 17 September 2022, that it will release an additional €7.5 million (around $7.4 million) for salvage operations to secure the 376-metre-long FSO Safer, an oil tanker off the coast of Yemen with 1.1 million barrels of oil, which is in danger of exploding and unleashing a disaster, estimated to have the potential for a massive oil leak four times worse than the Exxon Valdez spill.

Liesje Schreinemacher, Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, who announced this additional contribution during a visit to Yemen, expressed hopes that this amount will help to bridge the current funding gap, thereby allowing recovery efforts to begin. The UN-led salvage operation is aimed at preventing a major oil spill, which has the potential to become “the fifth largest oil spill from a tanker in history.”

Furthermore, Schreinemacher’s trip to Yemen, where a civil war has been raging for the past eight years, was the first such visit by a Dutch minister to the country in 14 years. A truce between the Yemeni government and the Houthis has been in effect since April.

While announcing this additional donation, Schreinemacher remarked: “Normally, as a minister, it’s my job to deal with the repercussions of disasters. But in this instance, we have a chance to prevent a disaster. The Safer is a ticking timebomb. We need swift action. It’s encouraging that so many countries have pledged their financial support.”

This comes months after the Netherlands organised a donor conference in collaboration with the UN in May 2022 to raise money for salvaging the FSO. At that time, the Dutch government also made an initial contribution of €7.5 million. 

The plan to address the threat posed by the FSO Safer comprises two critical tracks, entailing a four-month emergency operation by a global maritime salvage company to transfer the oil from the FSO to a temporary vessel and the installation of a long-term replacement vessel or another capacity equivalent to the FSO within a target of 18 months.

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The two-track plan has an overall cost of $144 million, while the cost of cleanup alone would be $20 billion if this oil spill is not prevented. Due to years of neglect the FSO Safer, which has been moored some 4.8 nautical miles southwest of the Ras Issa peninsula on Yemen’s west coast for more than 30 years, could lead to an enormous oil spill in the Red Sea with serious humanitarian, ecological and economic repercussions.

“Beyond the human suffering and environmental damage, such an accident would also seriously disrupt international shipping – including the port of Rotterdam – and with it global commerce,” said the minister.

This sort of calamity would be a repeat of the Ever Given disaster, which disrupted global trade over a year ago when it ran aground in the Suez Canal. If the FSO Safer threat is not averted, vital shipping through the Bab al-Mandab Strait to the Red Sea could be disrupted for an extended period, costing billions of dollars per day. As experts from Smit Salvage have been advising the UN on conducting complex maritime salvage operations, Schreinemacher hopes that the UN will be able to continue using the services of these kinds of Dutch firms.

“Thanks in part to the Netherlands’ contribution we now have the necessary funds to start salvaging the vessel. Obviously, all the other parties will have to follow through on their pledges as well. The Netherlands stands ready to help the UN start this operation as soon as possible,” added Schreinemacher.

Previously, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, David Gresslylaunched a crowdfunding campaign, aimed at raising $5 million in individual donations to start salvage work in July, as increasingly volatile currents and high winds make the emergency operation more dangerous in October, increasing the risk of the ship breaking up. However, this was delayed as the UN did not have sufficient funds to start the operation.

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On the margins of the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, the Netherlands, the U.S. and Germany were expected to hold a meeting in which the UN and various partners would look ahead to the necessary follow-up steps, including how the operation will actually be carried out, according to the Dutch government.

The additional Dutch donation follows the announcement from HSA Group, Yemen’s private company, which pledged $1.2 million in late August 2022 to support the UN’s $80 million target to fund this emergency operation to remove over one million barrels of oil from the tanker and safely transfer it to another vessel. At the time, the UN received $64 million in pledges from over a dozen governments and less than $16 million was still required to avert a potential disaster for Yemen and the wider Red Sea

Nabil Hayel Saeed Anam, Managing Director, HSA Group – Yemen region, commented: “We hope that this first donation from the private sector may serve to encourage other companies across the world to contribute to the UN’s response and avert this potentially catastrophic crisis.”