Yemen: UN removes 1m barrels of oil from ageing tanker to avert environmental catastrophe
The Guardian: The transfer of more than 1 million barrels of oil from an ageing tanker moored off the coast of war-torn Yemen has been completed, avoiding an environmental disaster, the UN has said.
In a statement on Friday, Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesperson for UN secretary general António Guterres, said the operation had prevented a “monumental environmental and humanitarian catastrophe”.
An international team began siphoning the oil from the dilapidated vessel known as FSO Safer on 25 July. Almost all the oil is now aboard a replacement tanker called MOST Yemen.
Before the transfer the Safer, which Yemen used as a floating storage and offloading facility, held four times as much oil as was spilled in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska, one of the world’s worst ecological catastrophes, according to the UN.International organisations and rights groups warned for years of the potential for a spill or an explosion involving the tanker, which had not been maintained and has damaged pipes and seawater in its engine compartment.
“Today we can say that the United Nations and a remarkably broad group of partners have succeeded in preventing the worst-case scenario of a catastrophic oil spill in the Red Sea,” David Gressly, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, said.
It is moored 6km (3.7 miles) from Yemen’s western Red Sea ports of Hodeida and Ras Issa, a strategic area controlled by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels who are at war with the internationally recognised Yemeni government.
The warring sides blamed each other for blocking a salvage operation to remove the oil until a UN-led initiative succeeded in accessing the ship and raising money from international donors.
The transfer marks a major milestone in a plan that needs additional funding to transport the oil away and to move the Safer. The UN said a small amount of oil remained inside the Safer’s hull and that the salvage team needed to install a secure system for mooring the replacement tanker in deep water.
“As much of the 1.14m barrels has been extracted as possible,” the UN statement said. “However, less than 2% of the original oil cargo remains mixed in with sediment that will be removed during the final cleaning of the Safer.”
Gressly told UN reporters at a video news conference from Yemen that during the cleaning phase a sea water wash would be applied “to extract as much liquid oil as possible”, and the oil-mixed sediment would then be removed at another port. It is unclear how long that next phase will take.