FSO Safer; Source: Boskalis

VLCC Nautica arrives in Yemen to transfer oil from ‘time bomb’ FSO Safer

A very large crude carrier the Nautica, bought in March by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) from Euronav, as part of a coordinated operation to remove oil from decaying FSO Safer, has arrived in Yemen.

FSO Safer; Source: Boskalis

The arrival of the VLCC has been confirmed by Yemeni Foreign Minister, Ahmed Bin Mubarak.

Nautica, which has arrived in Hodeida port anchorage, Yemen’s principal port on the Red Sea, will serve as a replacement ship for FSO Safer, which poses a risk of a massive environmental disaster.

Namely, the VLCC will take over more than a million barrels of oil that is about to be transferred from the FSO, which poses a massive risk of an oil spill of catastrophic proportions.

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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.

The arrival of the Nautica comes as the final preparations for the pumping operations are underway. Salvage company SMIT and Dutch offshore services provider Boskalis have been busy with a thorough inspection of the vessel and its cargo prior to starting salvage operations to transfer the oil.

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.

Over the past two weeks, further progress has been made by SMIT Salvage to prepare the FSO Safer for the oil transfer phase of the operation. Recent work has focused on inspecting and reinstating equipment on board the FSO Safer. Furthermore, the underwater inspection of the hull by a team of professional divers has been executed.

Two tugboats owned by Smit Lamnalco also arrived on site. These tugboats will assist with the berthing of the replacement tanker when she arrives on site. For contingency purposes, oil booms will be installed as a precautionary measure during the ship-to-ship transfer of the oil.

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

Netherlands-based Elegant Exit Company (EEC), which specializes in the sustainable recycling of veteran ships by converting them into green steel, has voiced interest in recycling FSO Safer, as calls from NGOs and human rights organizations for the safe recycling of the vessel intensify.

The Dutch startup said that the Kingdom of Bahrain has pledged its support to EEC for the recycling of vessels, including the FSO Safer. The company added that the process would be supported by the Arabian Shipbuilding & Repair Yard (ASRY) in Bahrain, which has expressed its readiness to accept the FSO Safer for recycling.

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Currently, NGOs are calling on the Dutch government, one of the biggest donors to the Stop Red Sea Oil Pollution operation, to follow suit and assist UNDP in identifying a suitable recycling facility by pushing for “the safe and environmentally sound” recycling of the FSO Safer.

This comes after several yards located on the beaches in India and Bangladesh and major cash buyers have shown interest in scrapping the FSO. For NGOs, this is unacceptable as they claim that these yards regularly sell end-of-life vessels for “dirty and dangerous” shipbreaking.