UN Purchases VLCC to Empty Oil From The Decaying FSO Safer, Off The Yemen Coast

On March 9, the United Nations announced it had agreed to buy an oil tanker to transport more than 1 million barrels of oil from a collapsing tanker.

For years, the United Nations has been gravely concerned about a possible leak from FSO Safer, which would lead to a more devastating environmental and humanitarian accident than the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska. The vessel, embroiled in Yemen’s ongoing civil war since 2014, has shipped 1.1 million barrels of oil with minimal maintenance.

In response to this crisis, the UN agreed with Euronav to acquire a VLCC for safe storage of the cargo as part of its coordination effort. This new vessel is currently being prepped in a dry dock for conversion and maintenance before being deployed to FSO Safer, located some 9 kilometres from Yemen’s Ra Suisa Peninsula; its estimated arrival is early May. FSO Safer has been idle since 2015 due to the conflict in Yemen and is now so deteriorated that it may explode or sink at any moment, potentially wreaking havoc over a wide area.

Oil Tanker
Image for representation purposes only

The United Nations has warned that a disastrous oil leak will affect 200,000 Yemenis living on the Red Sea coast and eradicate their source of income. The pollutants are already wreaking havoc in the air and rendering major fishing ports, such as Hodaydah and Saleef, useless; this dearth of resources is further exacerbating the 17 million people starving in Yemen. In addition, desalination plants have ceased operations, leaving millions of people homeless.

Even worse is that the hazardous material could potentially reach all neighbouring countries in the Red Sea. Inevitably it will damage corals, mangroves and other underwater ecosystems – an atrocity which takes over two decades to recover from. Furthermore, this clean-up undertaking requires an exorbitant sum amounting to $20 billion. Moreover, ever since Ever Given ran aground in 2021, blocking traffic from Bab Al Mandab to Suez Canal – commerce has been disrupted across the world, with billions of dollars charged daily. For these reasons, UNDP secured SMIT to tackle this risky mission; by safely removing the oil before transporting it to a landfill for stability purposes.

Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, has expressed his approval of the recent purchase of a vessel as part of an emergency phase in an UN-coordinated program. This initiative is aimed at eliminating the risk of disaster caused by oil stored in safes and is supported by a number of international organizations such as IMO, WFP, and UNEP, along with other international consultants who are experts on the law of the sea, insurance and environmental implications.

The war in Ukraine has presented great financial strains to this project since it has increased the market prices for suitable vessels for this type of use, thus raising the need for more funds; fortunately, as of March 7th, $95 million had been raised out of the estimated budget cost of $129 million – with $75 million already received.

Thousands of people around the world contributed to the FSO’s Safer Project in 2021 to fill the budget gap.

References: Hazard Ex, Middle East Monitor

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