WASHINGTON (TBEN) — The United Nations said Monday it has finally reached a pledge target to raise money to remove 1 million barrels of oil from a long-stranded and rusting oil supertanker off Yemen, bringing them closer to preventing an explosion or leak that could cause ecological and economic disaster.
The UN still needs to convince all donors to pay the pledges for the $75 million first phase of the emergency removal operation, warned Russell Geekie, a spokesman for UN operations in Yemen.
The rusting FSO Safer supertanker contains about four times the estimated amount of oil released in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster that devastated the Alaskan coast. Delays in funding and the Seven Years’ War in Yemen have thwarted international efforts to address the threat, leaving the Safer a specter of impending disaster off the coast during Yemen’s ongoing conflict.
The UN has led a multinational effort to raise funds to safely dispose of the oil. US envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, was among those pushing for donations. The US this summer cited the threat that coming winter storms could breach the rotting hull.
Liesje Schreinemacher, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, announced a new donation of $7.5 million (7.5 million euros) from her government during a trip to Yemen over the weekend.
“With this contribution, we have now reached the amount needed to start the salvage operation and we can avoid a serious disaster,” Schreinemacher tweeted.
The Netherlands, the US and Germany are planning a press conference on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Wednesday to announce “the successful financing of the emergency operation” to neutralize the threat posed by the Safer.
“However, the UN now needs donors to convert pledges into cash so work can begin as soon as possible,” Geekie, the spokesperson for the United Nations who is coordinating the effort, told The The Bharat Express News in an email. .
After the emergency operation, an additional $38 million is needed for long-term safe storage of the oil, according to the United Nations.
The rusting, neglected, Japanese-built tanker has been at its location 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from Ras Issa, Yemen’s western port, on the Red Sea since the 1980s when it was sold to the Yemeni government. .
Documents obtained by the TBEN in 2020 show that seawater has entered the engine compartment of the abandoned tanker, damaging pipes and increasing the risk of sinking. Rust has covered parts of the tanker and the inert gas that prevents the tanks from collecting flammable gases has leaked out. According to experts, maintenance is no longer possible because the damage to the ship is irreversible.
The United Nations, the United States and other governments, as well as Greenpeace and other international organizations, have long warned that a major spill — or explosion — could disrupt global commercial shipping via the vital Bab el Mendez and Suez Canal routes, causing untold damage to to the world economy.
A major spill would also be an environmental disaster, devastating the Red Sea and its coastlines. Experts point to potential damage to tourism across the region. Local impacts could devastate the fishing industry in impoverished Yemen and potentially close Yemeni ports used for life-saving humanitarian aid, the international community says.