During the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies’ latest Yemen Media Call, United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen David Gressly said funding was urgently needed for a UN effort to avert a catastrophic oil spill in the Red Sea. In an unusual step by the UN to address the current funding shortfall, Gressly also announced the launching of a crowdfunding campaign aimed at expanding the potential funding pool beyond donor countries by allowing the general public to also contribute.
The FSO Safer is a decrepit, 45-year-old single-hulled oil tanker moored off of Yemen’s west coast with more than a million barrels of oil on board – four times more than was released by the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill. The FSO Safer, which acted as an oil export terminal, has received almost no maintenance since the ongoing Yemen conflict began eight years ago and has been described as a “floating bomb” because of the explosive gasses that have built up in the holding tanks.
Speaking during the June 13 Sana’a Center event, Gressly told journalists and others that the risk of a catastrophic oil spill would rise dramatically in the months to come, as rougher weather in the Red Sea in October and November would increase the likelihood of the ship breaking apart, as well as complicate any potential salvage operations.
Gressly said the UN and the Dutch government have developed a comprehensive plan, estimated to cost roughly $140 million, to address the threat. The first emergency phase involves transferring the oil off of the FSO Safer to a secure temporary vessel, while the second phase involves installing a permanent replacement for the oil terminal. The first phase of the plan requires $80 million to implement, said Gressly, of which the UN has to date raised only $60 million.
Gressly emphasized that the potential clean-up costs in the event of an oil spill could be as much as $20 billion. A spill could affect as many as 200,000 Yemenis working in the fishing industry, as well as countless others across the country due to Hudaydah port, one of Yemen’s busiest, becoming inaccessible for commercial and humanitarian cargo vessels. The impacts would spread far beyond Yemen, however, likely decimating the Red Sea’s marine ecosystem and washing up on shorelines around the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa.