The world, especially the Middle East has still not recovered from the shock of the Beirut blast disaster that happened on last Tuesday. And now, experts point out another ticking time bomb on the coast of Yemen in the form of a ship. This ship ‘FSO Safer’ carries more than 1.1 million barrels of oil aboard and is at the risk of leaking or exploding.
This rusting oil tanker off the Yemen coast has been neglected for five years as were the ammonium nitrate stores in the Beirut port warehouse, which was unloaded from the ship Rhosus, 6 years ago. Interestingly, Beirut port warehouse was once used as an offshore storage platform for Yemen’s oil exports.
Experts are calling for urgent action to secure the ship, which was built in 1976, so that it does not blast or leak its cargo of 1.14 million barrels of oil which leads to a major disaster in the Middle East.
Long past its useful life and neglected during five years of war, the ship already shows signs of its age. Cracks have appeared in the vessel’s hull, allowing seawater to seep inside, the UN said in a report. It plans to send a team of experts to carry out studies on the ship.
But work to make it safe or offload its cargo – valued at about $80 million (Dh293.8m) – has been delayed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who control Hodeidah and access to the ship. A Yemeni analyst, Ibrahim Jala, called last week for action on the Safer after 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded at Beirut’s port on Tuesday, having been stored there for six years.
Mr. Jala, of the Middle East Institute, said 4,900 tonnes of the compound, nearly double the amount left in the Lebanese warehouse, is being stored at the port in Aden. He even called this and the ship as ‘nightmare situations.’
If the oil aboard the ship leaks, analysts predict, it could cause a catastrophe that would outstrip some of the world’s worst oil spills and cause irreparable damage to much of the Red Sea’s wildlife and coast.
Meanwhile, a recent UN report said that Yemen’s Houthi rebels have agreed to give the UN access to FSO Safer, counting on the catastrophe that the ship would cause to the environment. The Iran-backed rebels, who control the port, sent a letter approving a visit by a UN technical team to the tanker, the sources told Reuters.
The 45-year-old vessel was used as an offshore storage platform for Yemen’s oil exports but has had virtually no maintenance for five years since war broke out in the country.
The Houthis in late 2014 seized the capital, Sanaa, from the internationally recognised government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi. Yemen’s government has warned that the Safer could explode and cause “the largest environmental disaster regionally and globally”. It urged the UN to take up the issue.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Friday that prospects for a mission to the site had been revived and that if an inspection team is allowed on board it will conduct light repairs and determine the next steps. “We hope logistical arrangements will be quickly completed so this work can begin,” Mr. Dujarric said.