An oil tanker is likely to sink off the coast of Hodeidah in Yemen

July 20, 2020

An ecological bomb is anchored some forty miles off the coast of Yemen in war. It is the Safer, an oil tanker loaded with over a million barrels of crude oil that for five years has rusted abandoned off the port of Hodeidah, controlled by the Houthi rebels. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC), which met last week to discuss the case, after a team of experts was finally able to board on Sunday, warned on the environmental risks that would entail its sinking.

The Security Council decided to deal with the matter because the rebel militias had always opposed that UN officials could inspect the ship, or that technical teams could intervene on its maintenance. Finally, aware of the appalling environmental threat, the Yemeni Foreign Ministry itself said in a tweet that the UNSC would hold a special session to discuss the Safer issue.

Corroded by the saltwater, without any maintenance since the civil war broke out in 2015, the oil tanker risks endangering the lives of three million people, who would be affected by toxic gases. The Safer also risks destroying the desalination stations of the country and the precious ecosystem of the Red Sea in an area already highly vulnerable to oil pollution.

The threat affects not only Yemen but all neighboring countries, and a disaster of this magnitude would also have consequences for the economy and vital activities of tens of millions of people. According to experts, without immediate intervention, Safer could cause an environmental disaster, four times heavier than the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in the US, on the Alaskan coast, considered the biggest disaster in history. An accident for which the Houthi militias would be held responsible by the International and local communities.

The UN and several environmental organizations tried for months to convince the rebel militias to allow an international maintenance team to reach the area. Built-in 1976 and moored off the coast of Yemen since 1988, where it served as a floating storage and unloading terminal, intended to receive Yemeni export crude oil and load it on ships, the Safer is unused by the conquest by the Houthi of the port of Hodeidah. Timely action is now needed to avoid an announced catastrophe.

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