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Hazardex November: Editor's comment

Author : Alistair Hookway, Editor, Hazardex

17 November 2020

The United Nations has reiterated the need for an urgent inspection to be conducted of the decaying FSO Safer stranded offshore war-torn Yemen. The floating storage vessel has had no maintenance in five years and there is a significant risk that its cargo of 1.1 million barrels of oil could leak and cause a major humanitarian and environmental catastrophe four times worse than the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska.

The tanker has been caught up in Yemen’s ongoing civil war that has ravaged the country since 2014 when Houthi rebels seized the capital, San’a. A Saudi-led coalition backed by the US has attempted to reinstate the internationally recognised government, causing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

On September 23, Saudi Arabia said in a letter to the UN Security Council that the FSO Safer had reached a critical state of degradation after an oil spill had been spotted near the stranded vessel, although did not provide any evidence. Saudi Arabia said that the situation poses a serious threat to all Red Sea countries.

The UN has attempted to send experts on several occasions to conduct an assessment and repairs on the tanker with the Houthis backing out of the last agreement the day before the planned mission. The UN says it held constructive talks in September which it hopes will finally pave the way for an assessment and repairs. Reports have suggested that pipes and valves on the FSO Safer have been damaged by corrosion and the equipment that injects inert gas into the ship has broken, meaning even a small spark could cause a disaster.

The situation has been exacerbated by the deep mistrust between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition. The Houthis have said that they want any assessment and repairs to be conducted in one visit, a move which critics have suggested is aimed at ensuring the ship and its valuable cargo stay in place.

There have also been reports that the Houthis believe the explosion and spill threat posed by the vessel acts as a deterrent to aerial bombing in the area and any coalition attempts to retake the nearby port city of Hodeidah. The Houthis have denied these reports but have admitted said they believe coalition forces would exploit the situation in order to attack Houthi held territory, including Hodeidah.

…Alistair Hookway, Editor, Hazardex

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