UN must act to prevent major oil spill catastrophe in Yemen

Greenpeace called for swift action from the United Nations (UN) to resolve the long outstanding environmental and humanitarian threat posed by the FSO Safer, ahead of today’s UN Security Council meeting during which Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), and Reena Ghelani, the Director of Operations and Advocacy for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), will be providing updates on the FSO Safer situation.

The Safer is a rusting tanker with 1.1 million barrels (over 140,000 tonnes) of oil on board anchored just 6 km (4 miles) off the coast from the world’s worst humanitarian disaster unfolding in Yemen.[1]

Ahmed El Droubi, senior campaigner at Greenpeace MENA, said: “It’s not if; it’s when. The FSO Safer is rusting at anchor and could break or explode at any moment potentially causing an oil spill four times bigger than the Exxon Valdez, adding an additional burden to a country already devastated by six years of conflict. Fires from an explosion would pollute the air with serious health impacts for poverty stricken local communities and response personnel. The UN must resolve the impasse, have the tanker inspected and enact plans to make the ship safe and remove the oil.”[2]

The priority is to avoid a disaster and quickly start the safe removal of oil from the FSO Safer, while preparing to tackle a potential oil spill, which could rank in the top 10 of the world’s biggest spills.[3]

Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International said: “The UN must act now to avoid what could be the region’s biggest oil disaster this century. The solutions are available, the expertise and technologies to help are known. It’s time to step up and prevent further catastrophe for the people of Yemen, with potential impacts on millions of others in surrounding areas.”

“The political deadlock must be broken and the international community has to find a swift peaceful resolution to access the rusting oil tanker. The risks of devastation are increasing with every passing day of inaction.”

The giant tanker is one of the world’s biggest ships at 360 metres long and 70 metres wide, built in 1976 and called Esso Japan, later renamed as the FSO Safer. Since 1988, it has been anchored off the coast of Yemen in the southern Red Sea as a Floating Storage and Offload unit. According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), since 2015 there has been no maintenance and the single-hull ship shows serious signs of rusting. There is also a concern that the generators, the fire fighting equipment and the inert gas system are reportedly not working.[4]

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