Yemeni activists launched Thursday (August 27th) an urgent appeal to allow UN teams immediate access to the corroding Safer terminal in order to prevent environmental, humanitarian and economic disaster in the Red Sea.
The Safer floating storage and offloading (FSO) terminal, moored off Ras Isa port in Houthi-controlled al-Hodeidah province, contains some 1.14 million barrels of crude oil. It is an environmental disaster waiting to happen.
The Safer has undergone no maintenance in five years since it came under the control of the Houthis, who have repeatedly refused to give access to a UN team of experts to conduct an assessment.
The signatories to the appeal -- more than 100 journalists, activists and public figures from Yemen and other Red Sea countries -- are calling for dissociating the Safer issue from political considerations, and approaching it as a purely humanitarian crisis.
The international community and global environmental organisations must work to prevent a disaster in the Red Sea, they said in a statement. If the Houthis "continue to delay tackling the crisis, the international community should take responsibility for that".
In the event that Safer's oil cargo is sold, the proceeds should be allocated for relief operations in Tihama, and for paying salaries to health and education sector employees, the statement added.
"The international community and UN should do their best to prevent the exploitation of humanitarian issues or the use of civilians and their rights as a pressure tool in the ongoing war," it noted.
In a statement to Al-Sharq al-Awsat daily Thursday, UK Ambassador to Yemen Michael Aron said the Houthis reject offloading Safer's cargo.
"At this stage, the Houthis want to repair the Safer oil tanker... without offloading the oil on its board," he said, noting that UN engineers have yet to receive entry permits from the Houthis, and remain in Djibouti.
"We are waiting for an agreement between the UN and the Houthis," he said, and though the Houthis have expressed doubts over the UN plan, "I think some progress has been achieved".
The UN Secretary-General on August 14th called on the Houthis to give UN technical experts "unconditional access" to the Safer "without delay" in order to carry out emergency repairs.
The Houthis are using the deserted Safer tanker as a "means for political blackmail to fulfill their aims and Iran's agenda in the region", political analyst Faisal Ahmed told Al-Mashareq.
They agreed on July 12th to give UN inspectors permission to inspect the tanker, but later reneged on their promise.
The Houthis intend to use the crisis as a "time bomb" they can threaten to detonate in case the Yemeni army moves to liberate al-Hodeidah, Ahmed said.
They are ignoring the dangers of an oil spill from the corroding tanker although they know that this is likely to happen, he added, which is why they are using it as a political weapon to "maintain their gains on the ground".
"Yemen's government has unconditionally accepted all UN-proposed solutions for maintaining the tanker, but the Houthis agree to allow UN experts on board only to later back down," said Ahmed.
"This happened last year, and again last month before the UN Security Council's session," he said.