UN to begin emptying dangerous tanker vessel of oil in the Red Sea

An oil tanker whose decay is at an advanced stage is located in the Red Sea and contains the equivalent of 1.1 million oil barrels.
Photo: Holm Akhdar/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix
Photo: Holm Akhdar/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

A Red Sea-located oil tanker vessel named FSO Safer has been a cause for concern at the UN and among environmental groups for years.

Tuesday, however, the UN informs that operations to bring out oil from the decayed ship in order to hopefully avoid an environmental disaster are about to commence.

FSO Safer contains crude volumes corresponding to 1.1 million barrels. Should it leak, it would pour four times as much oil into the surroundings as Exxon Valdez did off Alaska in 1989.

The ship, built in 1976, has not been maintained since 2015 when it was caught up in the civil war that has plagued Yemen.

The vessel ended up outside a part of the country that came under the control of the Houthi opposition. 

For years, the UN has attempted to gain access to the ship in order to repair it and thereby avoid a leakage or a potential explosion.

According to the UN, the ship is in an ”advanced decay” stage and will at some point ”fall apart or explode” if not dealt with.

Massive clean-up

Earlier attempts to access the ship has been prevented, as the UN has not been given any guarantees from the Houthis that attempts to repair the ship would not be responded with attacks.

Experts have previously assessed that if the oil should spill into the Red Sea between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, it would take the ocean environment 30 years to recover.

Smaller operations on the ship have been achieved. In 2020, a British delegation managed to fix parts of the ship’s engine room. However, the delegation subsequently insisted that a more permanent solution was needed as soon as possible.

According to the UN’s Tuesday announcement, a support vessel has reached FSO Safer’s location. Furthermore, an oil tanker most likely acquired by the UN for the occasion should be there as well.

The two vessels will transfer oil from FSO Safer over into the UN oil tanker. Work will commence within two weeks, informs the UN, according to news agency AFP.

When FSO Safer has been emptied of oil, the ship will be relocated from its position off Yemen, AFP reports.

”If all goes according to plan, somewhere in late June, early July, we might be in a position to say that that critical phase of the ship-to-ship transfer could be completed,” says Achim Steiner, head of the UN Development Programme, which is in charge of the salvage operation, as cited by AFP.

English edit: Kristoffer Grønbæk

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