Race against time to raise funds for Yemen tanker salvage mission

A scheme to replace the 'FSO Safer' must begin before choppy seas and adverse weather arrive in September, UN says

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The UN on Friday warned of a race against time to raise $80 million to scrap and replace a dangerously leaky oil tanker stranded in the Red Sea before adverse weather makes the emergency mission too dangerous.

David Gressly, the UN’s aid chief in Yemen, said he would head to Gulf capitals next week to raise cash for the mission to salvage the FSO Safer, which has been floating off Yemen’s Houthi rebel-held western coast for years.

The UN last month signed a deal with the Houthis to repair the 45-year-old supertanker. A nationwide truce declared in Yemen last week has raised hopes for a mission that should be carried out before adverse sea conditions occur in September.

“The plan’s success hinges on donor commitments of funds now to begin work by the beginning of June,” Mr Gressley told reporters in New York.

“Waiting beyond then could mean delaying the start of the project by several months, leaving the time bomb ticking.”

The $80m price tag covers the “salvage operation, the lease of a very large crude carrier to hold the oil, and crew and maintenance for 18 months”, he said.

An estimated $25m was also needed to buy the replacement vessel the Houthis are to receive under the terms of the deal, he added.

The Netherlands will host a fundraiser in the coming weeks in the hopes of beginning work towards the end of May.

Corrosion in the boiler system. February 2019. All images supplied to I.R. Consilium and printed with permission from the original photographers and copyright owners.

Environmentalists and the UN have warned for years about the threat posed by the decrepit FSO Safer, which could rupture or explode, releasing its 1.1 million barrel load in a disaster four times worse than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill near Alaska.

It would hurt tourism, fishing and desalination plants across Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti, and impede a shipping lane that carries about 10 per cent of global trade.

“Clean-up costs alone are estimated $20 billion,” Mr Gressley said in New York.

“That does not count the cost of environmental damage across the Red Sea or the billions that could be lost due to disruptions to shipping through the Bab Al Mandab Strait.”

“Think of the Ever Given,” he added, in reference to the huge container ship that blocked the Suez Canal in March 2021.

Yemen has been mired in civil war since 2014, when Houthi rebels took control of the capital and much of the north, forcing the government to flee to the south, then to Saudi Arabia. A Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March 2015.

A truce between rebel, pro-government and coalition forces announced last week has raised hopes of a more enduring peace that could help UN-backed teams fix the FSO Safer and reverse a humanitarian crisis that has left millions of Yemenis in poverty and facing hunger.

Updated: April 08, 2022, 6:39 PM