In a move that was hailed as a “critical milestone,” a salvage company from the Netherlands announced on Thursday it had reached an agreement with the UN to pump oil from the rusting Safer oil tanker off the coast of war-ravaged Yemen.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) finalized the contract for the Boskalis subsidiary SMIT Salvage on Wednesday to transfer the million barrels of oil aboard the FSO Safer to a safe replacement vessel and prepare the Safer for towing to a green scrapping yard.
The work is expected to begin in May, it was announced.
“The agreement today between UNDP and Boskalis subsidiary SMIT Salvage, to deploy a team of leading experts aboard the Ndeavour marks another critical milestone of the ‘Stop Red Sea Spill‘ operation to transfer oil from the decaying FSO Safer to a safe temporary vessel,” said Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator.
“We look forward to be working with Boskalis and other leading experts to prevent a humanitarian, environmental and economic disaster. We also appeal to leaders from governments and corporations to step forward and help us raise the remaining $29 million required to complete this complex rescue operation.”
David Gressly, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, said the project showed the unique role the UN can play in addressing such issues.
Gressly, who has led UN system-wide efforts on the Safer since 2021, added: “However, we urgently need to close the $29 million funding gap for the emergency operation and raise the additional funds needed to ensure safe long-term storage of the oil.”
The multipurpose support vessel Ndeavor, which will sail with its crew and experts, is loaded with generators, hydraulic pumps and other specialized equipment to carry out the operation on the Safer, which no longer has functioning systems.
“Following a long planning period, our salvage experts are keen to get to work and remove the oil from the Safer,” said Peter Berdowski, CEO Boskalis, who has signed the contract through its subsidiary SMIT Salvage with the UN Development Programme. “I would like to express my gratitude to the many UN member nations in their support for this operation including the Netherlands. The Boskalis vessel Ndeavor is ready for departure, and I wish the crew all the success in this important mission.”
On Monday, the UK and the Netherlands announced they will co-host a pledging event on May 4 with the aim of fully funding both phases of the Safer project.
‘‘An enormous oil disaster is looming, which could have serious humanitarian, environmental and economic implications. But we now have a chance to prevent that disaster,” said Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Liesje Schreinemacher.
“The Netherlands has worked hard to mobilise funds for the operation and now a major new step has been taken. It’s good that Dutch firm Boskalis is taking on a key role in the response. The Netherlands will continue helping the UN to bring this to a good end.’’
The United Nations has received firm funding commitments of $99.6 million. The total budget for this first phase is $129 million, leaving a gap of $29.4 million. An estimated $19 million is required for the second phase of the operation.
To fill the budget gap, the UN is appealing to Member States and private entities, as well as the global public through a crowdfunding appeal to which thousands of individuals have already contributed.