Fisherman in Yemen

WORLD CAN ACT NOW TO PREVENT CATASTROPHIC OIL SPILL IN THE RED SEA

Constructed in 1976 as a supertanker and converted a decade later to be a floating storage and offloading facility (FSO) for

oil, the Safer is moored about 4.8 nautical miles off the coast of Hodeidah governorate in Yemen. The vessel holds an estimated 1.14 million barrels of light crude oil. Production, offloading and maintenance operations on the Safer were suspended in 2015 because of the war. As a result, the Safer’s structural integrity has significantly deteriorated.

UN-coordinated plan to resolve the threat

In September 2021 the United Nations’ senior management instructed the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, David Gressly, to provide UN system-wide leadership on the FSO Safer and coordinate all efforts to mitigate the threat and strengthen contingency plans in the event of a catastrophic oil leak. This followed on earlier efforts to address the Safer threat in the highly politicized environment of the conflict.

After months of discussions with all relevant stakeholders, the United Nations produced a UN-coordinated operational plan to address the threat. The UN has engaged closely with the Government of Yemen in Aden, which is supportive of the initiative.

The Sana’a-based authorities, who control the area where the vessel is located, are also supportive and signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the UN on 5 March. The MoU establishes a framework for cooperation in which the Sana’a-based authorities have committed to facilitating the success of the project. The plan comprises two critical tracks:

  • Installation of a long-term replacement vessel or other capacity equivalent to the FSO Safer within a target 18 months.
  • With the situation too dangerous to wait for the replacement vessel, an urgent four-month emergency operation by a global maritime salvage company to eliminate the immediate threat by transferring the Safer’s oil to a secure temporary vessel.

On 6 March, the UN organized a mission to Hodeidah City and the Ras Isa terminal near where the FSO Safer is moored to discuss the proposal with local authorities, which were supportive of the plan. Technical experts on the mission confirmed the risk of catastrophe at any time.

The costs of a major oil spill

  • The cost of cleanup alone is estimated at US$20 billion.
  • It would take 25 years for fish stocks to recover.
  • A major oil spill could close the nearby ports which are essential to bring in food, fuel and lifesaving supplies into the country. 
  • The environmental impact of a major spill on water, reefs and life-supporting mangroves on Yemen’s coast and potentially across the Red Sea would be severe.
  • Vital shipping through the Bab al-Mandab Strait to the Red Sea could be disrupted for an extended period, costing billions of dollars per day.

Without donor funding, we will draw closer to disaster

Implementation of the plan cannot begin without donor funding. Donors have pledged or contributed $40 million for the UN-coordinated plan to address the threat. Of the $104 million gap in funding for the two-track plan, $40 million is most urgently needed to start work on the emergency operation.

By October, increasingly volatile currents and high winds make the emergency operation more dangerous and increase the risk of the ship breaking up.

Every day we wait for funding delays the start of the operation, bringing closer the day when the vessel will break apart.

Your contribution will help make it possible to start the operation next month. It will also make a strong statement to governments and private companies to contribute-before it is too late!

For further information, please contact:

Russell Geekie, Senior Communications Advisor to the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, geekie@un.org