In a bid to avert an environmental disaster, the United Nations said on Thursday (March 9) it has secured a large tanker to store some 1.1 million barrels of oil that will be transferred from a decaying vessel off Yemen’s coast.
The world body has been warning for several years that any oil spill from the Safer tanker could devastate the Red Sea and the coastline of Yemen.
But as the UN set about trying to raise money to transfer the oil, prices for vessels surged, mainly it said due to factors stemming from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Senior officials said they now had most of the cash. “We have already mobilized $95 million. We’re projecting that we need another $34 million to complete the project,” the top UN official in Yemen, David Gressly, told reporters.
They had now secured the vessel and expected it to sail within the next month, UN Development Programme Administrator Achim Steiner said.
“We hope, if all things go according to plan, that the operation of the ship-to-ship transfer would actually commence in early May,” Steiner added.
The Safer supertanker was being used as a floating storage and offloading facility and is moored off Yemen’s Red Sea oil terminal of Ras Issa. Production, offloading and maintenance operations were suspended in 2015 due to the war in Yemen.
The UN has warned that the tanker’s structural integrity has significantly deteriorated and it is at risk of exploding.
It could spill four times as much oil as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska and a clean-up could cost some $20 billion, UN officials have said.
“This is a risky operation and things could go wrong,” said Steiner.
“We have done everything we believe we can to minimize those risks, to mitigate them. But at the end of the day, until that oil is taken off, we are operating in an extremely complex operating environment,” he added.
Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Iran-allied Houthi group ousted the government from the capital Sanaa in 2014. A Saudi-led military coalition in 2015 intervened in a bid to restore the government.