Environment

Houthis continue to disregard Safer warnings

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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Yemeni fishermen dock their boats at the Red Sea port of al-Hodeidah on June 11th, 2019. [STR/AFP]

In continued defiance of Yemeni and international warnings, the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) are still refusing to allow a maintenance and assessment team to board the Safer floating storage and offloading (FSO) terminal.

The corroding vessel, moored off the coast of Yemen in the Red Sea, contains at least 1.14 million barrels of crude oil. It is a disaster waiting to happen if the cargo it carries cannot be moved off the vessel before it sinks.

The Yemeni government has issued repeated warnings about a potential environmental catastrophe and recently raised alarm that a pipe on the vessel has been punctured, causing seawater to leak into the engine room.

Despite the increasing danger, the Houthis are insisting on keeping the status quo in an attempt to use the Safer as a bargaining chip, thereby threatening the security of the Red Sea, the government's economic committee said.

The Safer has been moored for the past five years off the port of Ras Issa, within the coastal waters of the Houthi-controlled port of al-Hodeidah.

The Houthis have refused to allow maintenance to be performed on the vessel or to have its cargo offloaded by the UN, even though, according to the committee, the government has offered multiple concessions to enable this to go ahead.

Serious threat to marine environment

Yemeni Foreign Minister Muhammad al-Hadrami on June 16th held separate video conferences with ambassadors to Yemen from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, to discuss the Safer problem.

They discussed the urgent need to find a solution to the problem, which poses a serious threat to the environment in Yemen and the region, and actions the Security Council can take to prevent an environmental disaster.

A large-scale oil spill would pose a serious threat to the marine environment, first deputy governor of al-Hodeidah province Walid al-Qadimi told Al-Mashareq.

"It would have a direct impact on the livelihood of more than 60,000 fishermen in al-Hodeidah province, and additionally, more than 100 Yemeni islands in the Red Sea would lose their biological diversity," he said.

It also would have "catastrophic consequences for the marine environment and cause death to fish and coral reefs, and thus compound the human suffering of the population in those coastal areas", he added.

Al-Qadimi decried the Houthis's refusal to allow maintenance work to go ahead, and called on the militia to allow UN experts to access the vessel, as the government has been demanding for the past two years.

"The environmental, economic and humanitarian cost will be huge in the event that an oil spill occurs or if the FSO sinks as a consequence of the Houthis' nonresponse to international demands in this regard," he said.

Direct impact on maritime navigation

According to Yemeni environmental organisation Holm Akhdar (Green Dream), in the event of an oil spill from FSO Safer, 115 Yemeni islands in the Red Sea would be threatened with the loss of biological diversity.

Around 126,000 fishermen would lose their source of income, and Yemen would lose 850,000 tonnes of its fish reserve. Additionally, 969 types of fish would be threatened by oil slicks, and 300 species of coral may die out.

An oil leak from the Safer would trigger "an environmental, economic and humanitarian catastrophe, not only for Yemen but all the countries of the region", Studies and Economic Media Centre chairman Mustafa Nasr said.

Additionally, "the consequences of non-performance of maintenance on Safer, which could lead to an oil spill or the vessel sinking, would be catastrophic for the regional and global economies", he told Al-Mashareq.

It also would have a direct impact on maritime navigation and the global export of oil, he added, pointing out that the Houthis must sense the danger in not responding to the efforts to find solutions to the issue.

A large-scale spillage of oil would have serious consequences "for Yemen's fish wealth, which is an economic resource for the country and residents of the coastal regions", he said.

This would compound the suffering of the Yemeni people, he added, and has the potential to be "a graver disaster that would inflict more suffering than the war has".

A threat to Yemen and the region

Political analyst Adel al-Shujaa called on the UN to intervene.

"The international community's failure to deal firmly with the Houthis on this issue has encouraged the militia to persistently reject any solution to address it, including the solutions proposed by the UN," he told Al-Mashareq.

The Houthis and their backer, Iran, "could not care less about the interest of Yemenis or the countries of the region being harmed by an oil spill or Safer's sinking", said political analyst Faisal Ahmed.

The Houthis are "a tool to serve Iran's interests in Yemen", he told Al-Mashareq.

They are using the Safer "as a time bomb to threaten the countries of the region and global interests, without regard to the disastrous economic and environmental consequences for Yemenis", he said.

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