Yemen’s internationally recognised government on Wednesday rejected conditions set by Houthi rebels to extract oil from a rusting tanker off the country's western coast.
The rebels have their eyes set on the million barrels of crude oil stored in the FSO Safer tanker. In exchange for the oil, the rebels said they would allow a group of UN experts to board the ship for inspection.
In response, the government said the tanker must be disposed of immediately and warned of an environmental catastrophe if the vessel breaks apart.
Cracks are already appearing in the hull and seawater has reportedly entered the rusting hulk, which has been abandoned for years.
“The reservoir cannot dock to a marine terminal for oil export even with international specifications and accredited certificates. The oil stored must be disposed of in order to avoid a humanitarian and environmental disaster due to deteriorating reservoir’s condition,” said the foreign ministry.
Last month, the Houthis said a team of UN engineers would be allowed to visit the ship but reports in recent days suggest the rebels have blocked them from boarding.
The government agreed, without any conditions, for a UN team to arrive and inspect the tanker.
“We agreed to provide all the facilities for it, and for using the proceeds to go towards the payment of salaries of civil service employees in all parts of the country,” said a statement.
The ministry said it condemned the continued evasiveness of the Houthis and their refusal to allow a UN team to access the tanker.
“They are using it as a political weapon,” the statement said.
“We appeal to the UN Security Council and the international community to stop the Houthis from hijacking the oil reservoir that threatens the stability of Yemen, the region and the world,” said the statement.
The tanker has had almost no maintenance since the conflict in Yemen intensified in 2015 and risks causing a major oil spill, explosion or fire, that would have catastrophic environmental and humanitarian consequences for Yemen and the region.
Last week, the UN chief Antonio Guterres said the potential oil slick in the Red Sea would not only “severely harm Red Sea ecosystems relied on by 30 million people across the region”, but would also force the port of Hodeidah to close for months.
“This would further exacerbate Yemen’s already severe economic crisis and cut off millions of people from access to food and other essential commodities,” Mr Guterres said.
The international environmental group Greenpeace wrote a letterto Mr Guterres urging the UN to make the situation a priority.
The group said the UN must use its “full diplomatic and technical capacity to carry out an urgent on-board technical assessment to determine what repairs are needed to make the vessel at least temporarily safe.”