A deserted oil tanker described as a “floating bomb” could explode and dump one million barrels of oil into the ocean, experts have warned. The vessel, named FSO Safer, has been abandoned in the Red Sea off the western coast of Yemen since March 2015 when Houthi rebels took over the region. Yemen has been crippled by a fractious civil war following the Iran-backed Houthi uprising that swept the pro-Western government into exile in 2015.
A standoff over the Safer and its £64million-worth of oil has meant it has been left to decay – leading to fears it is on the verge of blowing up. Explosive gasses are thought to have built up in the decrepit tanker’s storage tanks that could rupture any minute, experts said. The blast would create an “environmental and humanitarian catastrophe” as it sends oil pumping into the sea, according to the UN-recognised Yemeni government.
In a letter to the UN, the government warned that the disaster is “imminent” unless the Houthi allow inspectors on to the ship. But the Houthi have blocked access to the Safer – demanding they receive assurances that any revenue from the oil goes to them.
Doug Weir, director of the Conflict and Environment Observatory, told The Guardian: “Until a UN technical inspection takes place it is difficult to determine the precise risk that the vessel poses, however the potential for a serious environmental emergency is clear. “An explosion leading to a spill would have a severe effect on the Red Sea marine environment, and on both biodiversity and livelihoods, an emergency made worse because the ongoing conflict would hamper efforts to control and respond to the pollution it would cause.”
The Yemen government released a chilling video in which it warns the Safer – moored near the port of Ras Isa – is thought to have 1.14m barrels of crude in its tanks. That is four times the amount of oil released in the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill – widely seen as one of the worst man-made natural disasters in history. A report for the Atlantic Council think-tank said: “Though a photograph reveals only a ship, known as the Safer, its explosive potential renders it a floating bomb – permanently moored in the Red Sea off Ras Isa.”
Mark Lowcock, the UN humanitarian coordinator, told the UN security council last week: “If the tanker ruptures or explodes, we could see the coastline polluted all along the Red Sea. Depending on the time of year and water currents, the spill could reach from Bab-el-Mandeb to the Suez Canal, and potentially as far as the Strait of Hormuz.” He added: “I leave it to you to imagine the effect of such a disaster on the environment, shipping lanes and the global economy.”
Source – The Sun