Saudi Arabia offers $10m to mitigate threats from ‘Safer’ oil tanker off Yemen

The vessel is moored near a coastline under Houthi rebel control

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Saudi Arabia has announced it will offer $10 million to contribute towards efforts to mitigate the potential economic, humanitarian and environmental threats from the FSO Safer oil tanker moored in the Red Sea, north of the rebel-controlled Hodeidah port in western Yemen.

Last month, the UN announced it was seeking $144m in international aid to safely remove oil stored in the rusting ship.

The FSO Safer has become emblematic of the stalemate in the conflict in Yemen over the past few years.

The aid announced by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSrelief) will support the efforts of UN organisations to develop an effective plan to identify and address the potential threats posed by the Safer and its 1.1 million barrels of oil.

“Fishing communities, international navigation and the delivery by ship of food, fuel and life-saving supplies to Yemen would all be affected, exacerbating the humanitarian situation in the region and threatening all Red Sea countries,” KSrelief said in a press release.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the FSO Safer tanker moored off Ras Issa port, Yemen, on June 17, 2020. Maxar Technologies via AP

“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia calls upon the United Nations to immediately take the necessary actions to prevent oil leakage from the tanker, and to either transfer the oil to a safe place or use it to benefit the Yemeni people,” the aid agency said.

In April, Yemen's warring parties agreed to a two-month truce. It was extended on June 2 and is scheduled to expire on August 2.

On March 5, the UN and the Iran-backed Houthis signed an agreement to unload the oil from the vessel. The Houthis said they would grant access to the vessel under the deal.

The FSO Safer is a Japanese-made vessel built in the 1970s and sold to the Yemeni government in the 1980s to store up to three million barrels of crude pumped from oilfields in Marib, a province in eastern Yemen. The ship is 360 metres long and has 34 storage tanks.

The tanker, which lies some 150 kilometres south of the border with Saudi Arabia, is in "imminent" danger of breaking up, the UN said last month.

The FSO Safer contains four times the amount of oil that was spilt by the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, one of the world's worst ecological catastrophes, according to the UN.

Experts and officials have called the FSO Safer a floating bomb. Last week environmental campaign group Greenpeace urged the Arab League to drum up funds for an operation that would transfer its 1.1 million barrels of oil to a different vessel.

A UN pledging conference last month fell far short of its $80m target, bringing in just $33m.

Updated: June 12, 2022, 6:01 PM