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Yemen rebels to allow UN repair mission on decaying oil tanker to proceed

27 November 2020

Yemen’s Houthi rebels have reached an agreement to allow a United Nations mission to inspect and repair an abandoned, decaying oil tanker that has the potential to cause a major humanitarian and environmental catastrophe. The UN said on November 24 that a repair mission to the stranded FSO Safer could begin by late January or early February.

Representative image: Shutterstock
Representative image: Shutterstock

The UN has attempted to send experts to conduct maintenance and repairs on several occasions, however the Houthis backed out of the last agreement the day before the planned mission. The UN held constructive talks in September and has now received an official letter from the Houthis that indicates their approval for a UN mission to go ahead.

In a daily press conference, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that an exact deployment timeline still needs to be agreed as the scheduling of the mission will depend on the market availability or required equipment.

At the press conference, Dujarric was asked what was different with this agreement to the one made in July. Dujarric said this agreement was more formal and represents an important step forward.

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 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.

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