Environment

Arab League ministers seek Yemen tanker solution

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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Yemeni fishermen sit in their boats in the Red Sea waters off the port city of al-Hodeidah on January 1st, 2019. [AFP]

The Council of Arab Ministers Responsible for the Environment (CAMRE) on Monday (September 21st) held a special session to discuss the corroding Safer terminal moored off the Red Sea port of Ras Isa.

The meeting, held virtually, was convened at the request of Saudi Arabia, with the aim of preventing an oil spill that would cause an environmental crisis.

The Safer floating storage and offloading (FSO) terminal contains some 1.14 million barrels of crude oil, and has undergone no maintenance in five years.

Yemen's Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) have refused thus far to allow a UN maintenance team access to the terminal, despite local and international calls.

In a Sunday statement, Kamal Hassan, assistant secretary-general and head of the Economic Affairs Sector at the Arab League, said meeting participants would discuss ways and mechanisms to implement CAMRE's Resolution 582.

This legislation, adopted in CAMRE's 31st ordinary session on October 24th, 2019, stresses the need for "finding an appropriate solution to avoid an environmental catastrophe".

Urgent need for maintenance

Despite repeated requests, the Houthis have refused to allow a UN team to inspect the tanker and assess its condition, said Yemen's Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez.

"They have always backed down on their promises about allowing a UN team to conduct the necessary maintenance," he said, accusing the Houthis of using Safer "as a tool for political extortion" to serve their agenda and that of Iran.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres last week reiterated a warning that "an oil spill, explosion or fire on Safer would have catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences for Yemen and the entire region".

"The Houthis sometimes demand the proceeds from the sale of oil stored on the tanker, and sometimes require that maintenance be conducted without offloading the oil," political analyst Faisal Ahmed told Al-Mashareq.

This indicates they are using it to achieve their political interests and those of Iran, which is facing tough economic sanctions, he said, and disregarding the humanitarian aspect of the situation and potential environmental crisis.

Houthis 'using tanker as weapon'

"The Houthis had threatened to blow up the tanker when al-Hodeidah was about to be liberated by the army in 2018," Ahmed noted.

"They are using the tanker as a weapon, not just against Yemen's legitimate government and residents of coastal areas, but also to threaten neighbouring countries and the global economy," he said.

They are doing this "so al-Hodeidah and its port can remain under their control and so they can continue to smuggle Iranian weapons and funds through it", he said.

"Iran is supplying Houthis with weapons, experts and money in a stark violation of international resolutions on Yemen," said Yemen's Information Minister Muammar al-Eryani.

He pointed to the recent arrest of a Houthi cell "involved in smuggling Iranian weapons" whose members confessed to receiving training in Iran and to links with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

This shows "the Houthis are exploiting the Stockholm Agreement and using the ports of al-Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Isa for smuggling Iranian weapons, escalating their terrorist military operations in Yemen, and targeting civilians in Saudi Arabia, oil tankers and commercial vessels in the Red Sea", he said.

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