UN chief concerned over Yemen’s abandoned oil tanker

Built-in 1974, the FSO Safer oil tanker reportedly sprang a leak in 2019,

United Nations: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “deeply concerned” about the condition of an oil tanker moored off the western coast of Yemen, his spokesperson has said.

Built-in 1974, the FSO Safer oil tanker reportedly sprang a leak in 2019, after being used as a storage vessel since the late 1980s, and was abandoned after its engine room flooded with seawater, threatening to destabilise the vessel and discharge its cargo.

The ageing ship has had almost no maintenance since the civil conflict in Yemen intensified in 2015 and risks causing a major oil spill, explosion or fire, that would have catastrophic environmental and humanitarian consequences for Yemen and the region.

Guterres said the potential oil slick in the Red Sea would not only severely harm Red Sea ecosystems relied on by 30 million people across the region, but would also force the Hudaydah port to close for months further exacerbating Yemen’s already severe economic crisis and cut off millions of people from access to food and other essential commodities.

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The Secretary-General urges the removal of any obstacles to the efforts needed to mitigate the dangers posed by the Safer tanker without delay, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Friday.

The UN chief specifically called for granting independent technical experts unconditional access to the tanker to assess its condition and conduct any possible initial repairs, he said.

The assessment will provide crucial scientific evidence for the next steps to be taken to avert catastrophe, Dujarric said.

International environmental group Greenpeace has written a letter to the Secretary-General, calling on the UN to make the situation its top priority and use its full diplomatic and technical capacity to carry out an urgent on-board technical assessment to determine what repairs are needed to make the vessel at least temporarily safe.

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Last month, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) chief, Inger Andersen, told the Security Council that “the clock was ticking for getting a UN team of experts aboard the Safer, before it spills its cargo of 1.148 million barrels of light crude oil into the Red Sea, triggering what would likely then be an environmental, economic and humanitarian catastrophe”.

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