Houthi Authorities in Yemen gave approval to the United Nations to visit and assess a deteriorating oil tanker off Yemen’s coast that is threatening to spill 1.1 million barrels of crude oil into the Red Sea.
According to the UN the Safer, stranded since 2015, could spill four times as much oil as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster near Alaska. However, access to the vessel is complicated due to the ongoing war in Yemen.
Reuters cited the U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric, who stated that staff and equipment could be expected to arrive at the tanker by late January or early February. The news agency notes that according to Dujarric, the experts would assess the tanker and could undertake light maintenance. The United Nations has a plan, but now needs to procure equipment and permits which will take time, he explained.
In the meantime, Hussein al-Azzi, the Houthi deputy foreign minister, added that Houthi authorities had sent a letter confirming they would welcome the U.N. team of experts, adding they were waiting for confirmation of an arrival date.
The Houthi group that controls the area where the tanker is currently moored, agreed in July to allow a technical team to assess the ship and conduct whatever repairs may be feasible. Yet, final agreement on logistical arrangements is pending.
The Safer was built in in 1974, and is now moored off the Ras Issa oil terminal, 60 km (40 miles) north of the port of Hodeidah. U.N. and Houthi officials inform that water has entered the Safer’s engine room at least twice since 2015. The latest leak in May was plugged by Safer Corp divers and Houthi naval units.
The UN urges for a quick solutions, as a major rupture could severely harm Red Sea ecosystems and shut Hodeidah port, Yemen’s main entry point for imports and aid.