Saudi Arabia: experts urgently needed to inspect Yemen’s abandoned oil tanker

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Saudi Arabia urged the United Nations to push Yemen’s Houthi rebels to let experts assess damage to a rusting oil tanker of the coast as Greenpeace sent a letter urging swift action.

The FSO Safer, moored off the coast of Ras Issa, is loaded with more than a million barrels of crude oil and experts have warned of an environmental catastrophe if the vessel breaks apart. Cracks are already appearing in the hull and seawater has reportedly entered the rusting hulk, left abandoned for years.

It is stationed about 60km north of the rebel-held port of Hodeidah and was a storage facility for exporting Yemen’s small export of crude oil.

“During a meeting with the UN Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths, Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Al Jaber stressed the urgent need for experts to access the tanker,” a statement by the Saudi press agency said.

Mr Al Jaber assured Mr Griffiths of Saudi Arabia's support towards his efforts in reaching a comprehensive political solution in Yemen aimed at ending the war.

Fears that 1.4 million barrels of oil could spill and destroy the livelihoods of Yemenis who rely on the area for fishing and cause widespread devastation up and down the coast.

The Houthis agreed last month to allow a team of UN engineers to visit the ship but reports in recent days suggest they have now blocked the experts from boarding the tanker.

A photo provided by the maritime consultancy IR Consilium, taken in 2019, shows the external piping system and the hose failure that led to a spill from the FSO Safer oil tanker moored off Ras Issa port in Yemen. IR Consilium via AP

Photos of the FSO Safer taken in 2019 show the deterioration in the condition of the abandoned tanker, which has raised fears of an environmental disaster if it should explode or spill the more than one million barrels of oil on board. IR Consilium via AP

Internal decay inside the FSO Safer. Yemen's Houthi rebels have denied access to the tanker for inspection and maintenance. IR Consilium via AP

Corrosion in the boiler system of the FSO Safer. IR Consilium via AP

Oil leaks on the deck of the FSO tanker after a lack of basic maintenance for years. IR Consilium via AP

Corrosion on the control piping system inside the FSO Safer tanker. IR Consilium via AP

Corrosion in the internal piping system of the FSO Safer. IR Consilium via AP

Environmental NGO, Greenpeace, urged the UN to prevent the environmental catastrophe if the tanker was to spill into the sea further deepening the current humanitarian disaster in Yemen.

In an open letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday, Greenpeace MENA Executive Director Zeina Al Hajj said that "inaction is longer an option."

“The UN is our last, best hope of averting a catastrophic oil spill in the Red Sea. It has all the influence and expertise to solve the problem and Greenpeace urge the Secretary General to make repairing the tanker and removing the million barrels of oil on board a priority," Ms Al Hajj said.

“Unless the UN act we risk sleepwalking into a disaster of international significance that will heap even more misery and suffering on millions of Yemenis," she said.

Last month, reports indicated that water entered the tanker's engine room, increasing the risk that the vessel would sink or explode.

The issue was temporarily fixed, but the UN said it could have led to disaster.

The development came as Yemen's President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi departed Saudi Arabia and headed to the US for a medical check-up early on Wednesday, a government official told The National.

“President Hadi will be going to Cleveland Hospital for a regular check-up in the US. This is not a serious matter, he’s in good health,” the official said. Mr Hadi was seen on Tuesday at a ceremony to swear in the new governor of Aden, secretary general of the Southern Transitional Council Ahmed Hamid Lamlas.

Mr Hadi will head to New York after his hospital visit before the upcoming annual UN General Assembly meeting. The meeting is expected to be largely virtual this year given the global pandemic.

Over the last few years, Mr Hadi has been on several trips for medical checks and treatment to the US, most recently in June 2019.

The Yemeni leaders have lived in exile in Riyadh since the Iranian-aligned Houthi group ousted the government and captured Sanaa in 2015.

Updated: August 12, 2020 05:25 PM

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