Dubai: An abandoned oil tanker anchored off war-torn Yemen that is degrading along with its cargo could explode and cause an environmental disaster, experts said Wednesday as UN inspectors prepared to visit.
The ship “Safer”, used as a floating storage platform, is laden with some 1.1 million barrels of crude oil and has been stranded with no maintenance since early 2015, leaving it to deteriorate and potentially allowing explosive gases to build up.
United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Tuesday that a technical assessment team was waiting in nearby Djibouti preparing to board the Safer for a first-hand evaluation.
“We expect the assessment to start either later this week or early next week. There are obviously some technical preparations that need to be made,” he told reporters in New York.
The UN team’s visit has been delayed for months as the Huthi rebels who control Ras Issa port, where the ship is anchored, had refused to allow the mission in a dispute over claims for revenues from the oil worth millions.
But Dujarric said the United Nations has obtained permission from both Yemen’s internationally-recognised government and the rebels to examine the vessel.
The structure of the tanker has had no maintenance at all since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen to back the government against the Iran-aligned Huthi rebels, he said.
Dujarric warned that an “environmental catastrophe” could result “if something were to happen to the tanker”.
The aim of the mission is to evaluate the condition of the vessel, perform an initial basic maintenance and assess what could be done technically to strengthen the ship’s structure.
The CEO of global maritime consultants I.R. Consilium described the situation as extremely alarming and characterised the ship as a ticking time bomb.
“The situation is serious and this matter will unfold into a crisis if urgent, decisive and effective action is not taken,” Ian Ralby told AFP.
A report issued by Consilium said the vessel “has turned into a massive bomb capable of explosion due to its contents and lack of maintenance”.
The risk of explosion increased by the day and if it happened, “it would create an environmental crisis four and a half times the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill,” it said.
The report was referring to the 1989 disaster when a tanker spilt some 260,000 barrels of oil into pristine Alaskan waters.
The United Nations has warned that if the Safer ruptures, it could block maritime trade through the Red Sea, which accounts for up to 10 percent of world trade.
It could also threaten the daily passage of some 5.5 million barrels of oil, contaminate drinking water and damage the marine environment across the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and parts of Gulf waters.
The head of Kuwait’s Greenline Environmental Group, a private NGO, warned that any catastrophe would likely hit waters of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Egypt, Djibouti, Somalia and Eritrea.
“The environmental system of the Red Sea is at risk of catastrophe if the oil leaks into the sea… It would lead to a large-scale death of fish and birds,” Khaled al-Hajeri told AFP.