After Beirut blast, experts urge action on region’s other ticking time bomb

More than 1.1 million barrels of oil aboard ‘FSO Safer’ off Yemeni coast at high risk of leaking or exploding

Experts and analysts are calling for urgent action on the FSO Safer,  a rusting oil tanker off Yemen, fearing it could the Middle East's next ticking time bomb after the explosion in Beirut last week.

The tanker, neglected for five years as were the ammonium nitrate stores in a Beirut port warehouse, was once used as an offshore storage platform for Yemen's oil exports.

Experts are calling for urgent action to secure the ship, which was built in 1976, so that it does not explode or leak its cargo of 1.14 million barrels of oil.

Long past its useful life and neglected during five years of war, the ship already shows signs of its age.

Cracks have appeared in the vessel’s hull, allowing seawater to seep inside, the UN said in a report.

It plans to send a team of experts to carry out studies on the ship.

But work to make it safe or offload its cargo – valued at about $80 million (Dh293.8m) – has been delayed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who control Hodeidah and access to the ship.

A Yemeni analyst, Ibrahim Jala, called last week for action on the Safer  after 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded at Beirut's port on Tuesday, having been stored there for six years.

Mr Jala, of the Middle East Institute, said 4,900 tonnes of the compound, nearly double the amount left in the Lebanese warehouse, is being stored at the port in Aden.

He described this and the Safer  as nightmare situations.

If the oil aboard the ship leaks, analysts predict, it could cause a catastrophe that would outstrip some of the world’s worst oilspills and cause irreparable damage to much of the Red Sea’s wildlife and coast.

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