UNDP urged to ensure ‘clean and safe recycling’ of decaying FSO offshore Yemen

Human rights and environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are urging UNDP to ensure the clean and safe recycling of the decaying floating storage and offloading (FSO) vessel Safer, moored offshore Yemen, that is threatening to cause a massive oil spill.

Source: Boskalis

In a letter addressed to UNDP, the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), the Basel Action Network (BAN), and the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, representing a global coalition of human rights and environmental organizations, have called for the recycling of the FSO Safer in accordance with international law and UNDP’s own ethical and sustainability policies. 

The NGOs are warning against the possibility of the vessel being scrapped at one of the “notorious South Asian shipbreaking yards known for their poor working conditions and the irreversible harm their operations cause to public health and fragile ecosystems.”

The vessel is said to likely contain significant amounts of toxic substances and materials, including asbestos, mercury-contaminated oil residues, and heavy metal-laden paints, that may cause damage to human health and the environment.

“Now that a successful operation has commenced for removing oil from the FSO Safer, it is essential that the UNDP addresses the inherent risks associated with the cleaning of the vessel’s tanks and its scrapping. We urge the UNDP to exercise due diligence when selecting the final recycling destination,” said Ingvild Jenssen, Founder and Director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform. 

According to the NGOs, UNDP must ensure compliance with the UN Basel Convention which regulates the transboundary movement and disposal of hazardous wastes, and that the recycling of the FSO is carried out in a facility that respects international labor rights; guarantees full containment of pollutants via a dry-dock or equivalent infrastructure, and is capable of managing hazardous materials onboard and embedded within the FSO’s structure in a safe and environmentally sound manner.

In addition, precautions must furthermore be taken to avoid the contaminated structure from sinking during transport to the recycling yard, the organizations noted.

“The UNDP cannot allow its Stop Red Sea Oil Spill operation to end with the FSO Safer putting workers, local communities and the environment in South Asia at risk. The shipbreaking beaches in South Asia are already some of the most polluted beaches in the world. Alternatives exist, and the UNDP must opt for a facility that operates in accordance with industry best practice and uses environmentally friendly technologies implementing sound life-cycle practices,” Jenssen added.

FSO Safer was constructed in 1976 as an oil tanker and converted in 1987 to a floating storage facility. The vessel, which has been moored about nine kilometers off Yemen’s Ras Issa peninsula since 1988, has not been maintained since 2015 because of the conflict in Yemen.

In response to the threat that the vessel’s deteriorating condition poses a risk of it breaking and causing a massive oil spill into the Red Sea which would represent an ecological and humanitarian disaster, the UN has prompted collaborative efforts to cover the costs related to the removal of the oil onboard and the preparation of the FSO for recycling.

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Donors, private companies, and the public have so far contributed $100 million toward the UN plan to prevent the spill, and Dutch company Boskalis, via its subsidiary SMIT Salvage, has been tasked with the removal of oil from the FSO. Shipping broker Clarkson, on behalf of UNDP, is currently accepting bids for the towing and scrapping of the vessel.

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

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Netherlands-based Elegant Exit Company (EEC), which specializes in the sustainable recycling of veteran ships by converting them into green steel, earlier this month announced its interest in recycling the vessel.

In its statement, the company said the process would be supported by the Arabian Shipbuilding & Repair Yard (ASRY) in Bahrain, which had expressed readiness to accept the FSO for recycling. As explained, ASRY stands as the sole facility in the Gulf region with all the necessary licenses and certifications, meeting international standards.