DATE: July 17, 2020
SNIP: The United Nations has warned there could be a disastrous oil spill four times the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster near Alaska if action is not taken to deal with a deteriorating oil tanker stranded off the coast of war-torn Yemen.
The Safer tanker is carrying 1.1 million barrels of crude oil and has been stranded off Yemen’s Red Sea oil terminal of Ras Issa for more than five years.
On May 27, water began leaking into the engine room, threatening to destabilise it, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock told a Security Council meeting.
While divers from the Safer Corporation were able to fix the leak, Mr Lowcock — who has mentioned the plight of the tanker during monthly council briefings on Yemen for more than a year — warned that “it is impossible to say how long it might hold.”
In a statement after the briefing, the 15-member Security Council “expressed deep alarm at the growing risk that the Safer oil tanker could rupture or explode, causing an environmental, economic, and humanitarian catastrophe for Yemen and its neighbours.”
“Time is running out for us to act in a coordinated manner to prevent a looming environmental, economic and humanitarian catastrophe,” Inger Andersen told the UN Security Council on Wednesday.
Seawater flooded the aging tanker’s engine room in late May and is threatening to destabilize the ship, according to the UN. Andersen said that “no effort should be spared” to conduct a “a technical assessment and initial light repairs” on the vessel.
But she added that in the longer term, the best option is for the oil to be offloaded from the ship, which would then be towed to a safe location for inspection and dismantling.
The international community will also have to come up with a response should an oil spill occur, she warned. The Exxon Valdez disaster damaged more than 1,300 miles of some of the most remote, wild shoreline in the United States, and the oil continues to pollute beaches and harm the ecosystem to this day.