On Tuesday, the UN started a critical operation to get rid of more than a million oil barrels from FSO Safer – an old and decaying supertanker that was moored off the Red Sea coast of Yemen, which has been threatening to result in a humanitarian as well as ecological disaster.
In a step forward, the salvage support vessel, the Ndeavor, contracted by the UN Development Programme to take on the oil transfer to a secure ship, arrived at the site on Tuesday.
The Ndeavor’s crew of specialists will inspect the vessel and undertake necessary actions to secure the oil transfer to another replacement tanker named the Nautica, which is in Djibouti, currently standing by to visit the site next month.
In 2021 (December), the UN senior management endorsed a plan to prevent an oil spill by transferring oil to a safe and secure vessel and installing a long-term replacement for the FSO Safer.
Today marks a significant step in operation to eliminate the threat the FSO Safer poses, said Achim Steiner, the UN Development Program administrator.
The assignment can now begin with a marine salvage support vessel dubbed the Ndeavor onsite.
This marks the culmination of tremendous work and coordination among the UN agencies,m, oil spill specialists, maritime lawyers, and many more.
Besides a probable environmental and humanitarian catastrophe, the funds spent now will prevent a future disaster that might cost billions.
With this in mind, the international community and private sector are urged to step up and support closing the funding gap on the assignment so that what has been started can be finished.
Even after the oil transfer can avert the worst-case scenario of a spill of about 1.1 million barrels, the ageing Safer will still hold significant residual oil and strike a massive threat to the Red Sea.
The project is underfunded, with about $29 million still required.
It involves safely mooring the replacement vessel to another anchor leg mooring buoy and then towing the Safer to a green recycling yard.
The Safer has been moored approximately 9km off the Ras Isa peninsula in Yemen since 1988 and could break up and explode any time.
Owing to the conflict in Yemen, the Safer has reportedly decayed to the point where there’s an imminent risk that would have disastrous impacts on the region and beyond.
A major spill would devastate the fishing communities on the Yemeni Red Sea coast, wiping out approximately 200,000 livelihoods nearly instantly.
Whole communities will also be exposed to life-threatening toxins, and highly polluted air would impact millions.
It could shut down the ports of Saleef and Hodeidah, essential for taking food, fuel, and life-saving supplies to Yemen, where 17 million individuals require food aid.
The closure of the desalination plants would be cutting off a water source for several millions of individuals.
Oil from the Safer might reach the African coast and impact any nation along the Red Sea.
The environmental effect on coral reefs, mangroves and other marine life would be severe, while the fish stocks would take about 25 years to recover.
The cost of clean-up is estimated at $20 billion.
Disruptions to shipping via the Bab Al Mandeb to the Suez Canal could cost some billions more in terms of global trade losses daily, as happened after the Ever Given had been grounded in the Suez Canal in 2021.
References: Forbes, The Maritime Executive
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