Houthis Wait For Safer Super Tanker To Blow Up In Sea

July 2, 2020

Off the Red Sea Coast, there is a ticking time bomb. A 45 year old supertanker the FSO Safer lies loaded. It holds more than 1.1 million barrels of crude oil. It stands there, decaying as it has been caught between the warring sides since Yemen’s civil war broke out in 2015.

Its corroded body to give up to the sea, anytime. This would mean a massive oil spillage into the sea, endangering marine life and the lives of Yemenis who are already living fractured lives. Yemen’s economy has collapsed. Its civilian population is on the brink of extinction. Children and women are dying of starvation and disease. Humanitarian aid has not been able to quench their thirst for water or food.

Used as an offloading point for the Yemeni oil exports it has been stationed permanently outside the Yemeni bounds, away from vital ports of Ras Issa, Saleef, and Hodeidah. It now stands in decay as the rebels hold it to ransom, making no greater use of it. It is a single-hulled vessel and was part of Yemen’s national oil infrastructure before the war started in 2015.

Yemen that has rich oil reserves had to stop all its export activity. Since then, these ports have become the gateway for about 85% of the vital, but still insufficient humanitarian aid coming into war-torn Yemen.As the Houthi rebels took over the supertanker facility, they have not let the state owned facility to be maintained by the staff. Unfortunately, staffers have had to desert the facility. As a result, the facility is being reduced to nothingness, in the absence of any kind of maintenance.

A prominent new agency has confirmed that an official with Yemen’s state run oil company has divulged the dangerous fact that seawater has entered the engine room. This has led to a forced shutdown of engines among other things, to keep inert gas pumping through the empty space in the oil storage tanks. That gas maintains pressure in the tanks to prevent the build-up of oxygen or other potentially flammable gases. Now, there is a serious risk of explosion.

According to the group’s founder Mohammed al-Hokaimi that spoke to CBS News, “the hull of the vessel has been deteriorating and one of its pipes has been punctured.” All this increases risk of crude oil spilling from storage tanks while parties to the conflict continue to show indifference to this serious issue. A letter has already been sent to the UN warning them of an imminent threat to oil spillage and resulting catastrophic damage to marine life.

British Ambassador to Yemen has also voiced the same concern. But the Houthis would rather leverage the sale of the oil in the vessel first, before they allow any maintenance work to be carried out on the supertanker. The Houthi leader Mohammed Ali Al- Houthi, has taken to twitter to say to the British Ambassador that, “any solution for the Safer must be” part of a wider peace deal, and include an easing of the Saudi-imposed blockade on Houthi-controlled Yemen.

Houthis are cash strapped and will not let go for the SAFER unless their demands for a safer Yemen are met. Meanwhile their tactics of stopping humanitarian aid and holding the super tanker ransom at the cost of marine life damage isn’t winning them any sympathy either.

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