Security Council Demands Access To Decaying Oil Tanker Which Threatens Yemen Freshwater Resources, Ecosystems

8 Oct 2020 by Staff - Water Diplomat

This news article was updated 19 October

The United Nations Security Council has called on Iran-backed Houthis to give experts immediate access to the stricken SFO Safer oil tanker in the Red Sea. The tanker has been stranded and unmaintained for five years north of Yemen's port city Hodeidah.

The condition of the tanker, containing an estimated 1,148,000 barrels of light crude oil and anchored 4.8 nautical miles off Ras Isa in war-torn Yemen, is corroding and deteriorating daily, increasing risk of a disastrous oil spill that woud destroy ecosystems and freshwater well systems. 

“The members of the Security Council recognised the grave threat posed by the Safer oil tanker, whose dire and dilapidated condition risks an environmental, economic and humanitarian catastrophe to Yemen and the region, and they called on the Houthis to urgently facilitate unconditional and safe access for UN experts to conduct an assessment and repair mission,” Security Council members said in a joint statement on 16 October.

Bakground reading: Water in Yemen

A spill would cause an environmental catastrophe, impacting ecosystems and the lives of potentially 28 million people who rely on the ecosystems for their livelihoods.

United Nations inspectors were barred from boarding SFO Safer tanker 4 October by Houthi militia who control the vessel. A 2 October virtual meeting between the office of the UN envoy to Yemen and the Houthi group had previously failed to reach an agreement on the tanker.

Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United Nations warned 24 September that experts had observed that "a pipeline attached to the vessel is suspected to have been separated from the stabilizers holding it to the bottom and is now floating on the surface of the sea".

500 km2 of agricultural land along the shore in Yemen would be affected, resulting in $70 million loss in production, 3.25 million farmers hit by crop loss, and over 8,000 water wells placed at risk of contamination, a report by the United Nations Environment Programme to the UN Security Council warned in July.

In May, seawater leaked into the abandoned FSO’s engine room, which was eventually patched by a team of divers.

Yemen has been ravaged by a devastating civil war since 2015. A joint report by a number of UN agencies, published in July, described how Yemen is in the eye of a “perfect storm” of economic shocks, conflict, floods, a plague of desert locusts, and the COVID-19 pandemic.