Report: Saudi Arabia warns of an oil slick near Yemen’s decaying tanker

An oil spot has been identified some 50 km west of the Safer oil tanker moored off the western coast of Yemen, Reuters reported citing a letter from Saudi Arabia to the UN Security Council.

The letter, written by Saudi Ambassador to the UN Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, said “a pipeline attached to the vessel is suspected to have been separated from the stabilizers holding it to the bottom and is now floating on the surface of the sea.”

As explained, the tanker seems to have “reached a critical state of degradation”, adding that the ongoing armed conflict in the region is further aggravating the risk to a major incident.

“We are urgently following up to confirm the information in the letter, both with our local contacts in Yemen and with the Saudi mission to gather more details,” a spokesperson of the UN Security Council told Offshore Energy-Green Marine in a comment.

“Whatever the outcome, it remains clear that the Safer poses a very serious threat that must be addressed as quickly as possible.”

The Safer FSO is floating north of Hodeidah and is believed to be loaded with over 1 million barrels of crude oil.

The UN Security Council has been warning for quite some time that the dilapidated tanker might rapture causing a massive explosion and oil spill into the Gulf of Aden. 

The aging tanker, built in Japan in 1974,  has had almost no maintenance since 2015.

The vessel was once used as floating storage and offloading terminal for vessels loading crude oil from a nearby Marib-Ras Isa pipeline. It has been moored 7km off the Ras Isa port since 1988 and fell under Houthi control in 2015 after the Houthi forces captured the port.

Since then, it has been used as a bargaining chip between Houthis and the Yemeni-government, backed by the Saudi-led coalition.

Yemen has been torn apart by more than five years of conflict between the forces of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi – supported by a Saudi-led international coalition – and mainly Houthi militia, for control of the Arab nation.

“A potential oil leak into the Red Sea would severely harm Red Sea ecosystems relied on by 30 million people across the region. It would force the closure of Hudaydah port for many months, which would exacerbate Yemen’s already severe economic crisis and cut off millions of people from access to food and other essential commodities,” the UN Security Council said.

While the west coast of Yemen would be hardest hit, the impact would likely extend to Djibouti, Eritrea, and Saudi Arabia.
 
The Secretary-General António Guterres urged for unconditional access to be granted to independent technical experts to assess the condition of the vessel and conduct any possible initial repairs. 

“This technical assessment will provide crucial scientific evidence for next steps to be taken in order to avert catastrophe,” Guterres said back in August. 

Special Envoys of the UN have been calling for access to the Safer for almost two years, to inspect the state of the vessel. However, these have been met by pushback from the Houthis.

“UN technical experts have recently been engaging with the de facto authorities on technical requirements for the long-planned assessment and repair mission. We hope they will expedite approval of this mission so the UN team can deploy as quickly as possible,” the UN Security Council told Offshore-Energy Green Marine. 

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