UN fears 'catastrophe' if Yemen oil tanker ruptures



This picture taken on July 14th, 2019 shows the vessel where a meeting of the UN Redeployment Co-ordination Committee (RCC) took place at sea off the coast of the Yemeni port city of al-Hodeidah. [AFP]

The UN held an unusual session Wednesday (July 15th) to express fears of "catastrophe" if a decaying oil tanker abandoned off Yemen's coast with 1.1 million barrels of crude on board ruptures into the Red Sea.

A breach of the 45-year-old FSO Safer, anchored off the port of al-Hodeidah, would have disastrous results for marine life and tens of thousands of impoverished people who depend on fishing for their livelihood.

The UN Security Council said it had sent details of a plan for an inspection team to conduct light repairs and determine the next steps to the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah), who control al-Hodeidah, on Tuesday.

On Sunday, the UN said the Houthis had agreed in principle to the assessment.

But they did the same in the summer of 2019, only to cancel a UN mission from Djibouti at the last minute.

The tanker's "condition is deteriorating daily, increasing the potential for an oil spill", Inger Andersen, head of the UN Environment Programme, told the Security Council.

"Time is running out for us now to act in a co-ordinated manner to prevent a looming environmental, economic and humanitarian catastrophe," she said.

The Security Council issued a communique expressing its "deep alarm at the growing risk," and called on the Houthis to move ahead with granting access to the tanker "as soon as possible".

Bargaining chip

Like other economic and aid issues in Yemen, the plight of the tanker has become a bargaining chip, with the Houthis accused of using the threat of disaster to secure control of the value of the cargo.

In June, the Houthis said they wanted guarantees the vessel would be repaired and that the value of the oil on board used to pay salaries of their employees.

But the Yemeni government has said the money for the oil should be used for health and humanitarian projects in the shattered country, which is again on the brink of famine after long years of conflict.

Al-Hodeidah port is a lifeline for northern Yemen, with 90% of all supplies coming through it.

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