UN buys carrier to remove oil from FSO Safer ship near Yemen

UN buys carrier to remove oil from FSO Safer ship near Yemen

The FSO Safer fell into disarray after Houthi rebels seized control of it in the Red Sea, and it could cause an environmental disaster in war-torn Yemen.

Yemen tanker

An abandoned oil tanker, at risk of sinking due to poor maintenance, is anchored off Yemen’s southern port city of Aden on July 21, 2021. SALEH OBAIDI/AFP via Getty Images

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) announced on Thursday that it reached a breakthrough in its efforts to prevent a major oil spill off the coast of Yemen

UNDP signed an agreement with the Belgian transportation firm Euronav to purchase a “Very Large Crude Carrier.” The ship will remove more than a million barrels of oil that is stuck on the decaying FSO Safer ship in the Red Sea near the Yemeni coast. It is currently undergoing modifications and maintenance before setting sail for Yemen and is expected to arrive in early May, UNDP said in a press release. 

Major step fwd to prevent catastrophic Red Sea oil spill from #FSOSafer w/the purchase of a vessel to remove millions of barrels of oil. @UNDP tasked with this complex salvage operation – working w/ sister agencies + experts on the @UN-coordinated plan https://t.co/6RG07BF7Di

— Achim Steiner (@ASteiner) March 9, 2023

Background: The FSO Safer is a storage and production ship that is moored in the Red Sea about 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) off the coast of Yemen. It was built in 1976 and was converted to store oil in 1987. In 2015, Houthi rebels seized control of the ship amid the Yemeni civil war. Since then, the ship has fallen into disarray without maintenance. 

Why it matters: The FSO Safer is carrying more than a million barrels of oil that is at risk of spilling into the sea. This would create an environmental catastrophe, according to the UN. 

“A major spill would devastate fishing communities on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, likely wiping out 200,000 livelihoods instantly. Whole communities would be exposed to life-threatening toxins. Highly polluted air would affect millions,” they said in the press release. 

The UNDP said it has raised $95 million out of $129 million it needs for the “emergency phase” of the cleanup project. 

Progress on addressing the FSO Safer has been slow. The UN said in February 2022 that it reached an “agreement in principle” to remove the oil, AFP reported at the time. The purchase of the carrier came more than a year later. 

Know more: The FSO Safer is not the only ship affecting Yemen. Al-Monitor reported last August that several leaking oil tankers off the coast of Yemen are threatening people’s health and livelihoods. 

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