A July 2020 satellite image of the abandoned tanker off Yemen. - SATELLITE IMAGE © 2020 MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES / AFP

Disagreements between rebels and the UN in Yemen have so far prevented the inspection and repair of an abandoned tanker off that country, with the United Nations warning that the tanker could explode and cause an oil spill. 45 years old and containing 1.1 million barrels of crude, the FSO Safer has been anchored since 2015 off the port of Hodeida (west), sixty km from the first inhabited areas in the country at war between power and rebels Houthis since 2014.

The port is controlled by the Houthis who finally gave the green light in mid-July to the UN experts to inspect the tanker but they are still awaiting written authorization to be able to go there. In a statement Friday, the spokesperson for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres ruled that "the tragic explosion of August 4 in Beirut and the recent alarming oil spill in Mauritius require the vigilance of the whole world".

Red Sea ecosystems under threat

"The structure, equipment and operating systems of [tanker] Safer are deteriorating, raising the risk of leakage, explosion or fire," the UN warned in its statement. In July, the UN Security Council warned of a "catastrophe". Used as a floating storage platform, the ship has not undergone any maintenance since 2015, leading to erosion of its structure and deterioration of its condition.

The rebels insist that the UN inspection team assess and repair the ship in a single visit. But the UN wants its team, after an inspection and initial repairs, to be able to return to the ship if necessary. “We want an assessment [of the boat's situation] and work to begin immediately. Some UN teams are taking too long and we don't want that, ”Hicham Charaf, the Houthi“ foreign minister ”told AFP. The rebels are also demanding the presence of a third country, Sweden or Germany, to oversee the repair process.

Our file on the war in Yemen

Studies by independent experts indicate, according to the UN, a risk of an oil spill that could destroy the ecosystems of the Red Sea, close the vital port of Hodeidah for six months and expose more than 8.4 million people at high levels of pollutants. The war has already plunged the country into what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Tens of thousands of people have died according to various NGOs.


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