The UN warned that an aging oil tanker moored outside Yemen’s Hodeidah port is at risk of exploding.
Rabat – A deteriorating oil tanker, close to Yemen’s recently demilitarized Hodeidah port, adds stress to an already tense region threatening to spill more than one million barrels of oil into the Red Sea.
“If the tanker ruptures or explodes, we could see the coastline polluted all along the Red Sea,” the Humanitarian Affairs Chief Mark Lowcock told the UN Security Council on Monday.
Lowcock said he is working with Houthi rebel forces to have UN Officials access the tanker, named SAFER, check the situation and find a solution to avoid an environmental disaster.
SAFER was built in 1976 and has been moored north of Hodeidah since 1988 as a Floating Storage and Offloading (FSO) terminal and was used as a point to load exported oil onto vessels.
Following Houthi control of Hodeidah in 2015, SAFER has not been in use, but still holds approximately 1.1 million barrels of oil. SAFER’s structure has been exposed to humidity and corrosion and had little maintenance. It is particularly at risk because of its old age.
When crude oil sits without being tended to regularly, the oil exposed to air oxidizes – oil molecules break down and combine with air molecules – creating a hot and flammable compound.
Hodeidah remains an area of conflict between Houthi rebel forces and Saudi Arabia-backed military coalition that supports the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.
The Hodeidah Agreement, part of the larger Stockholm Agreement, came out of peace negotiations in December 2018 and required both parties to remove military forces from the Hodeidah, Salid and Ras Isa ports to allow for greater access for humanitarian aid.
An explosion threatens the longevity of these agreements and complicates the already dire humanitarian crisis; according to a previous reporting by the Atlantic Council. Lowcock reported that fighting in Yemen displaced more than 250,000 people this year and the conflict is getting worse not better.
An oil spill would also endanger the surrounding marine environment – depending on currents damage could stretch from Bab el Mandeb to the Suez Canal, and potentially as far as the Strait of Hormuz, Lowcock explained.
The Regional Organisation for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (PERSGA), an intergovernmental body dedicated to the conservation of the coastal and marine environments found in the Red Sea, has previously promoted improvements to Yemeni oil spill response systems and the creation of Marine Protected Areas off the Yemeni coast.
Likewise, the Conflict and Environment Observatory has been reporting on and warning of SAFER’s posed threat for the past year.