An oil tanker idling off the coast of Yemen may be nearing an explosion, The Guardian reportsciting experts and a warning by the UN-recognized Yemeni government.
The government, which is fighting the Houthi rebels with the support of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, wrote in a letter to the UN that the situation is bad and deteriorating, and that there is an “imminent environmental and humanitarian catastrophe in the Red Sea”.
The vessel in question is loaded with some 1 million barrels of crude oil with energy experts fearing that the gas build up might eventually lead to a blast and a spill. A UN team has tried to approach it to assess the situation, but the Houthis who control the area where the tanker is moored have refused to grant them access.
“Until a UN technical inspection takes place it is difficult to determine the precise risk that the vessel poses, however the potential for a serious environmental emergency is clear. An explosion leading to a spill would have a severe effect on the Red Sea marine environment, and on both biodiversity and livelihoods, an emergency made worse because the ongoing conflict would hamper efforts to control and respond to the pollution it would cause,” The Guardian quoted an official from the NGO Conflict and Environment Observatory as saying.
Yemeni Government warns of a looming Huge Oil Spill into the Red Sea due to Houthis’ obstruction to maintenance works of crude oil tanker carrying more than a million barrel of crude oil. pic.twitter.com/Aiz1qwNeFH— رئاسة مجلس الوزراء اليمني (@Yemen_PM) July 13, 2019
The tanker, Safer, is the property of the Yemeni state oil company and before the war was used as both a storage facility and an offloading terminal, The Guardian notes, adding it has a total capacity of 3 million barrels. It has idled since 2015 when the Iran-backed Houthis took control of the area. Experts are particularly concerned with the corrosion rate of the vessel’s hull, which could lead to a leak or a spill.
“If the tanker ruptures or explodes, we could see the coastline polluted all along the Red Sea. Depending on the time of year and water currents, the spill could reach from Bab-el-Mandeb to the Suez Canal, and potentially as far as the strait of Hormuz,” the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Mark Lowcock told the UN Security Council in June.
“I leave it to you to imagine the effect of such a disaster on the environment, shipping lanes and the global economy,” he said, adding “discussions continue to resolve this as quickly as possible.”
Though the Houthi rebels in control of Yemen’s government – known formally by their party title, “Ansar Allah” – initially made the request for assistance with the floating time bomb, Lowcock said Houthi officials “continue to delay” any steps to address the problem.