UN removing oil from decaying FSO offshore Yemen

July 25, 2023
The United Nations reported that a high stakes operation is underway to avert a catastrophic oil spill in the Red Sea.

Offshore staff

YEMEN  The UN reported that it has started a complex operation to transfer crude oil from a decaying 47-year-old Safer supertanker stranded offshore Yemen since 2015.

The 19-day operation will pump more than 1 MMbbl out of the rusting vessel, which was abandoned over eight years ago, to a nearby replacement vessel.

Secretary-General António Guterres said, “United Nations has begun an operation to defuse what might be the world’s largest ticking time bomb. This is an all-hands-on-deck mission and the culmination of nearly two years of political groundwork, fundraising and project development."

UN officials have warned for years about the possibility that the tanker could crack and explode. The supertanker holds four times the amount of oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez, which the UN says is enough to make it the fifth largest oil spill from a tanker in history.

UNDP warned that a massive spill from the Safer FSO would destroy swathes of marine life in the Red Sea. Spokesperson Sarah Bel said a spill would "wipe out 200,000 livelihoods instantly" and "fish stock would take 25 years to recover.” Describing the operation as the first of its kind, she exercised caution during this “emergency phase” but assured reporters that everything had been put in place to “secure success.”

Safer has been moored some 4.8 nautical miles southwest of the Ras Issa peninsula on Yemen’s west coast for more than 30 years. In 2015 production and the maintenance of the tanker stopped due to the eight-year conflict between a pro-government Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels. As a result, the vessel is now beyond repair, the UN reported.

The UN chief warned that the cost of a cleanup would be $20 billion and that shipping all the way to the Suez Canal could be disrupted for weeks. He also noted that this was just a “milestone in the journey,” as the next step involves securing the replacement vessel to a specialized safety buoy.

The UN Secretary-General has called for a further $20 million to finish the project, including the scrapping of the Safer and removing any remaining environmental threats to the Red Sea.