An operation to start removing some 1.1 million barrels of oil from a decaying tanker moored off Yemen’s coast could start by the end of the week, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

U.N. officials have been warning for years that the Red Sea and Yemen’s coastline were at risk as the tanker Safer could spill four times as much oil as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said a vessel to which the oil will be transferred is less than 2 miles (3km) away and “making final preparations to moor next to the Safer, with ship-to-ship transfer of oil expected at the end of the week.”

Another vessel is already alongside the Safer to help with the transfer of oil.

The war in Yemen caused suspension of maintenance operations on the Safer in 2015. The U.N. has warned that the ship’s structural integrity has significantly deteriorated and it is at risk of exploding.

The U.N. has said the cleanup of a spill could cost $20 billion.

Yet it has struggled to raise the $129 million needed to remove the oil from the Safer, which included paying $55 million to buy the replacement vessel. The U.N. even started a crowdfunding campaign.

The salvage operation cannot be paid for by the sale of the oil because it is not clear who owns it, the U.N. has said.

Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Iran-aligned Houthi group ousted the government from the capital Sanaa in late 2014. A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened in 2015 aiming to restore the government.

Peace initiatives have seen increased momentum since Riyadh and Tehran in March agreed to restore diplomatic ties severed in 2016. (Reuters)


Red Sea oil leak disaster may be averted as tanker heads to transfer oil – Jerusalem Post

The Iran-Saudi deal likely paved the way for this, Iran has backed the Houthis in Yemen and they prevented access until now.


Published: JULY 15, 2023 

Nautica has left port in Djibouti to make the crossing to Yemen so one million barrels of oil from the Safer supertanker can be transferred.

United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen David Gressly tweeted on Saturday that “the replacement vessel Nautica set sail from Djibouti today at 09:45 en route to Yemen’s Red Sea coast to take on 1 million barrels of oil from the decaying FSO Safer supertanker. I am excited to be aboard and for the start of the oil transfer next week!” 

The journey to help save the Red Sea from a catastrophic oil spill has been a long one that goes back to the beginning of the Yemen Civil War and the rise of the Houthis in 2015.

The FSO Safer is defined as a floating storage and offloading vessel. It was built in 1976 as a supertanker, reports say. It was then moored off Yemen in 1984 where it stores oil that comes from the Marib oil field. However when the war expanded in 2015 and the Houthis almost took Aden and Saudi Arabia intervened, the tanker could not have its oil offloaded. Reports say a spill would be four times larger than the Exxon Valdez. 

Back in 2020, the UN warned that the Red Sea region faced an environmental catastrophe of epic proportions if United Nations experts fail to get swift access to the aging FSO Safer. At the time they claimed it was leaking. The tanker is 32 nautical miles (60 kilometers) north of the port of Hudeidah and 4.8 nautical miles off Yemen’s Ras Isa peninsula. No maintenance was performed after 2015 due to the Yemen war.

It holds an estimated 1.148 million barrels of Marib light crude oil. “Time is running out for us to act in a coordinated manner to prevent a looming environmental, economic, and humanitarian catastrophe,” said Inger Andersen, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme in 2020. 

Back in May Gressly had tweeted “Excited to be at the site of the #FSOSafer aboard the Ndeavor with the Boskalis/SMIT team. After 2 years of political groundwork, fundraising, and UNDP project development, the operation on the water is set to begin! #StopRedSeaSpill.” While the Nautica left Djibouti recently, it will take days to get to the Safer and for progress to be made.

The Iran-Saudi deal helped allow this

The Iran-Saudi deal likely paved the way for this. Iran has backed the Houthis in Yemen and they prevented access. But Arab News says “the Iran-backed Houthis finally allowed international engineers to board and inspect the deteriorating Safer tanker, moored off Hodeidah in western Yemen, after years of resistance against any operation to salvage the ship.” If the ship were to founder or leak tens of millions could be harmed by the spill. 

Gressly has been passionately pushing for a solution. In May he provided an explanation of the progress of events. He discussed the private-sector initiative to address the Safer which the Fahem Group and SMIT Salvage proposed in mid-2021. “The initiative called for a leading maritime salvage company to transfer the oil off the Safer and replace the decaying supertanker’s capacity.”

In December 2021, United Nations senior management endorsed the UN-coordinated plan and asked UNDP to implement it, contingent upon donor funding, he noted. By February 2021 the government of Yemen in Aden had supported the plan. In March 2022, they signed a memorandum of understanding with the UN that committed them to facilitating the operation. “By April 2022, the UN presented a draft operational plan to begin fundraising. The original budget for phases 1 and 2 was $144 million.”

The Netherlands and others helped fund the program. There was also crowdfunding. “In August, we received the first pledge from a private entity. $1.2 million from the HSA Group. The International Association of Oil and Gas Producers followed with a $10 million pledge and Trafigura Foundation with $1 million,” Gressly said. 

Then came the war in Ukraine. “Unfortunately, even as UNDP was gearing up to begin, the cost of suitable replacement vessels surged, chiefly due to developments related to the war in Ukraine.” The budget is now some $148 million. “Every part of the United Nations is involved, including the International Maritime Organization, the UN Environmental Program, and the World Food Program. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is among those that have worked on the Safer file for years and has now ensured $20 million of bridging finance.” He said, “with both the Nautica and the SMIT vessel Ndeavor en route to Djibouti, we expect the operation to start before the end of the month.” That was back in May.

In April Trade Winds News reported that “the 99-loa Boskalis multipurpose support vessel Ndeavor (built 2013) will sail to Djibouti over the next three weeks with the equipment needed for two months of on-site preparations, the ship-to-ship transfer and clean-up.” 

According to reports in March at VOA, the head of the “UN Development Program told reporters that his agency signed an agreement Thursday with Belgian shipping company Euronav to purchase what is known as a Very Large Crude Carrier, or VLCC. The 332-meter-long double-hulled vessel cost $55 million.”

That report noted that the vessel they acquired was in dry dock according to UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner. Apparently, back in March the vessel acquired was “undergoing the modifications in China and is expected to sail for Yemen within the next month. There it will be joined by experts from salvage company SMIT, who will board the Safer to carry out the transfer operation, which should take under two months.” 

A catenary anchor leg mooring buoy will be connected to the replacement vessel, reports say. The Safer will apparently be towed away and scrapped. 

The progress being made to deal with the FSO Safer crisis is important. It does lead to some questions. The UN claimed back in July 2020 that without swift access to the FSO Safer, which they claimed was “now leaking” there could be a catastrophe of “epic proportions.” Yet, since 2020, it’s not clear what happened to the alleged leak. Either way, it now seems the sums raised, ships acquired, and other details, have mostly made this possible; along with some peace in Yemen.