Yemen’s Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Hadhrami on Sunday (August 23rd) accused the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) of trying to impose additional conditions on UN experts attempting to access the corroding Safer terminal.
The Safer floating storage and offloading (FSO) terminal, moored off Ras Isa on the Red Sea, contains some 1.14 million barrels of crude oil, and has not had any maintenance since 2015. It is an environmental disaster waiting to happen.
The Houthis have been accused of using the threat of disaster to secure control of crude worth some $40 million stored aboard the terminal.
Al-Hadhrami stressed the seriousness of the situation, the latest in a series of warnings, during a meeting with French Ambassador to Yemen Christian Testot.
The UN Secretary-General on August 14th called on the Houthis to remove any obstacles and give UN technical experts "unconditional access" to the Safer "without delay" in order to carry out emergency repairs.
Houthi official Hisham Sharaf Abdallah on August 15th said the dispute now centres on the process for repairing the tanker, and insisted that a UN inspection team evaluates and repairs the vessel in a single visit.
"We want to have an assessment and work to start immediately," Sharaf told AFP. "Some UN teams take a lot of time and we do not want that."
The Houthis, who have accused the UN of bias towards Yemen's internationally recognised government, also demand that a third country, possibly Sweden or Germany, supervise the process.
Urgent access needed
The UN says it needs to first evaluate the problem and do immediate repairs, and then decide what further work is needed and what equipment and resources are required.
In an August 18th briefing to the UN Security Council, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Co-ordinator Ramesh Rajasingham said efforts to expedite access to the Safer were ongoing.
"The tragic explosions in Beirut earlier this month underline the urgency of resolving the Safer threat," he said, noting that the recent oil spill in Mauritius "makes this even clearer".
The Houthis issued permits for UN mission personnel to travel to Yemen on August 16th, he said, following an official request made July 14th.
"When issuing the travel permits, [the Houthis] also sent a detailed list of equipment and supplies that they want the team to bring, as well specific repairs they expect the team to complete," he said.
"We all share the objective of preventing a major catastrophe from the Safer, and the UN remains eager to assist," Rajasingham said.
He noted that the UN experts are reviewing the Houthis' latest request "to confirm feasibility, as well as any implications for mission timelines".
"Our immediate priority is to deploy to the site as quickly as possible to conduct the technical assessment, which will provide unbiased evidence for the way forward," he stressed.