Saudi Ara­bia warns UN of oil in Red Sea near aban­doned tanker

De­cay­ing ves­sel could leak 1.1m bar­rels of crude and cause un­prece­dented dis­as­ter, says ex­pert

Arab News - - Front Page - Tareq Al-Thaqafi Makkah

Saudi Ara­bia has warned the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil that an “oil spot” has been sighted in a ship­ping lane 50 km west of an aban­doned, de­cay­ing oil tanker off the coast of Ye­men. Ex­perts fear it could spill 1.1 mil­lion bar­rels of crude into the Red Sea.

The tanker, called the Safer, has been moored near Ras Issa oil ter­mi­nal for more than five years. The UN pre­vi­ously warned that it could leak four times as much oil as was spilled dur­ing the 1989 Exxon Valdez dis­as­ter off the coast of Alaska. UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res and the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil have re­peat­edly called on Houthi in­sur­gents in Ye­men to grant ac­cess the tanker for a tech­ni­cal as­sess­ment and emer­gency re­pairs.

In a let­ter to the 15-mem­ber Se­cu­rity Coun­cil on Wed­nes­day, Saudi Am­bas­sador to the UN Ab­dal­lah AlMoual­limi said “a pipe­line at­tached to the ves­sel is sus­pected to have been sep­a­rated from the sta­bi­liz­ers hold­ing it to the bot­tom and is now float­ing on the sur­face of the sea.” He said the ves­sel “has reached a crit­i­cal state of degra­da­tion, and the sit­u­a­tion is a se­ri­ous threat to all Red Sea coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly Ye­men and Saudi Ara­bia,” adding “this dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion must not be left un­ad­dressed.”

Ahmed Al-Ansari, an en­vi­ron­men­tal ex­pert in Jed­dah, said: “There is no doubt that the Houthi mili­tias’ intransige­nce in al­low­ing … main­te­nance of the tanker … has in­creased the chances of de­te­ri­o­ra­tion.” It might re­sult in a ma­jor oil leak, he added, that could cause an un­prece­dented en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter, the “neg­a­tive eco­nomic, en­vi­ron­men­tal and health ef­fects (of which) will be great on the coun­tries of the re­gion and the world, due to the im­por­tance of the Red Sea in in­ter­na­tional mar­itime trans­port” as a ma­jor link be­tween East and West.

Al-Ansari wel­comed the ef­forts of Saudi au­thor­i­ties to press for ac­tion in the UN “to en­sure that the King­dom’s shores and re­gional waters are pro­tected from all po­ten­tial dan­gers.”

In­de­pen­dent re­searchers are also con­cerned about the con­di­tion of the Safer. In a 2019 re­port for the At­lantic Coun­cil ti­tled “Why the mas­sive float­ing bomb in the Red Sea needs ur­gent at­ten­tion,” en­ergy ex­perts Ian Ralby, David Soud and Ro­hini Ralby said the po­ten­tial con­se­quences of a dis­as­ter in­clude an end to the two-year cease-fire in Hodei­dah and a wors­en­ing of Ye­men’s hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis.

“The risk of ex­plo­sion in­creases by the day and if that were to hap­pen, not only would it dam­age or sink any ships in the vicin­ity, but it would cre­ate an en­vi­ron­men­tal cri­sis roughly four and a half times the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill,” they said.

Other ex­perts warn that the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in Ye­men adds to the dan­ger. “(Given) the com­plex­ity of this war, an er­rant bul­let or shell from any one of the com­bat­ants could trig­ger a blast as large as Beirut’s Aug. 4 dis­as­ter, prompt­ing a his­toric oil spill,” Dave Har­den, manag­ing direc­tor of Ge­orge­town Strat­egy Group, wrote in an op-ed

pub­lished by news web­site The Hill last month. “Cleanup ef­forts would be daunt­ing — given the in­se­cu­rity of be­ing in a war zone and the ad­di­tional health risks from COVID-19.” Waleed Al-Qu­daimi, deputy gover­nor of Hodei­dah, said an oil spill would cre­ate a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis as se­vere as the one caused by the Houthi in­sur­gency.

“It (would) add an ad­di­tional bur­den that will af­fect Ye­men for decades, de­prive thou­sands of peo­ple of their jobs and de­stroy marine bio­di­ver­sity in Ye­meni waters,” he said as he ap­pealed for the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to main­tain pres­sure on the Houthis to al­low main­te­nance work.


A pipe­line at­tached to the ves­sel is sus­pected of hav­ing sep­a­rated from the sta­bi­liz­ers hold­ing it to the bot­tom and is now float­ing on the sur­face of the sea.

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