Environment

HRW urges Houthis to grant UN access to Safer

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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Yemeni fishermen dock at the Houthi-controlled port of al-Hodeidah on June 11th, 2019. Human Rights Watch on July 27th urged the Houthis to grant UN inspectors immediate access to a corroding oil terminal moored nearby, in order to avert an environmental disaster. [STR/AFP]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday (July 27th) called on the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) to immediately grant UN experts access to the corroding Safer floating storage and offloading (FSO) terminal off Yemen's Red Sea coast.

The oil terminal, moored off Ras Isa port in Houthi-controlled al-Hodeidah province, holds an estimated 1.1 million barrels of crude oil and presents a high risk of an oil spill as it has not had the necessary maintenance for five years.

An oil spill of this magnitude has the potential to cause a major environmental disaster for Yemen and regional countries.

Reports have indicated the tanker may disintegrate or explode, HRW said, calling on the Houthis to immediately grant UN experts access to the tanker.

HRW also called on the UN Security Council to "inform the Houthis that a failure to promptly address the issue could result in additional targeted sanctions".

"The Houthi authorities are recklessly delaying UN experts' access to the deteriorating oil tanker that threatens to destroy entire ecosystems and demolish the livelihoods of millions of people already suffering from Yemen's war," said HRW associate crisis and conflict director Gerry Simpson.

"The UN's top experts are on standby to prevent the worst and should immediately be allowed on board the vessel," he said.

The Security Council on June 29th asked the Houthis to grant immediate access to UN technical experts to assess the tanker's condition, conduct emergency repairs and make recommendations for the safe extraction of oil.

"In early July, the Houthis, who control the area, said they would allow the UN to carry out an assessment mission, but as of July 24th, the UN had not received the necessary permits for its staff to board the tanker," HRW said.

"UN attempts in 2019 to obtain permission failed."

"Iran, which has supported the Houthis and which transports significant amounts of oil through the Red Sea each year, should encourage the Houthis to co-operate with the UN," HRW said.

Regional states also should work closely with the UN to identify ways in which they can help convince the Houthis to co-operate, it added.

'Iran will share the responsibility'

"The Security Council should deal firmly and pass binding resolutions that include sanctions in the event that the Houthis fail to respond to these resolutions," political analyst Adel al-Shujaa told Al-Mashareq.

"Before the Security Council held its July 12th session to discuss Safer, the Houthis showed their willingness to allow a UN team to board the tanker and conduct an assessment mission," he said.

"But they soon backed down on this, as they did in 2019," he added.

The Houthis are using the Safer as a weapon to threaten their opponents, as well as Iran's opponents in the region, in order to alleviate pressures and sanctions on Iran, political analyst Faisal Ahmed told Al-Mashareq.

"The decision to allow a UN team to board the oil tanker is not in the Houthis' hands, but in Iran's hands," he noted.

"This confirms, yet again, that Iran is the source of political and military decisions, and that the Houthis, who are a tool in Iran's hands in Yemen, just implement such decisions," Ahmed said.

HRW urged Iran to encourage the Houthis to give access to the UN team, he said, "and therefore, in case of an oil spill, Iran will share the responsibility with the Houthis".

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