Environment

Aerial images show oil spill from Safer tanker off Yemen coast

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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This satellite imagery captured by Planet Labs and provided to Tanker Trackers purports to show an oil spill that occurred a fortnight ago at the Safer tanker in the Red Sea, off Yemen's western coast.

Satellite imagery last week from Tanker Trackers -- an international tanker tracking website -- has shown an oil spill from a decaying floating storage tanker off Yemen's western coast.

The 45-year-old Safer, anchored off a Yemeni port since 2015, has 1.1 million barrels of crude on board, and the UN has warned that a rupture or explosion would have catastrophic environmental and humanitarian consequences.

UN inspectors were once again barred from boarding the tanker on October 4th by the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah). The militia has refused thus far to allow a UN maintenance team access to the terminal, despite local and international calls.

Research by TankerTrackers shows that an oil spill occurred a fortnight ago from the aging ship.

"From what we've been able to gather, the spill went pretty far and wide in the immediate area, but is no longer spilling," Tanker Trackers tweeted on October 3rd, adding: "The vessel is still floating in place, but time is quickly running out for this ship."

Saudi Arabia's UN ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi warned last month that experts had discovered 50 kilometres west of the Safer that a pipeline attached to the vessel had likely separated from the stabilisers holding it to the bottom and it was now floating on the surface of the sea.

Political card

During a virtual meeting Tuesday (October 6th) with UK Minister of State for Middle East and North Africa James Cleverly, Yemeni Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Hadhrami urged the UN Security Council to pressure the Houthis to allow the UN access to the Safer.

The Houthis are using the tanker as a means to pressure Yemen's internationally-recognised government and the international community, he said.

UN Secretary-General spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said UN experts would need seven weeks, from the day approval is granted from the Houthis, to access the tanker with their equipment.

In a press conference held Monday evening, Dujarric confirmed that the UN "needs formal approval of the mission" from the Houthis "in order to begin procuring specialised equipment and making other arrangements".

"The sooner the approvals come together, the sooner the work can get started," he said.

A framework agreement on needed maintenance for the Safer was due to be signed last Friday between the Houthis and the UN. But during the meeting, Houthi representatives said they do not accept the agreement because the UN team did not take their notes into consideration.

"The world now realises the major environmental catastrophe that could happen in case of an oil spill or a blast on board the tanker," economist Abdul Aziz Thabet told Al-Mashareq.

"The Houthis have not responded to repeated calls from the Security Council, the Arab League and countries overlooking the Red Sea to give access to a UN team of experts to the tanker," he said.

The Houthis are exploiting this issue "to pressure the international community and make political gains, with total disregard to the environmental and economic damage" a major oil spill could cause, especially to Yemen, he said.

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