HUDAJDÁ / PRAGUE Off the coast of war-torn Yemen is an abandoned tanker with a cargo load of 1.1 million barrels of oil. According to experts, the vessel could break or explode every day and cause unprecedented pollution in the Red Sea. The issue of Wednesday’s videoconference was discussed by the UN Security Council, but the outcome of the negotiations is not yet known.
The Yemen government last week called on the UN to address the issue of a problematic tanker that could be “the biggest environmental disaster on a regional and global scale.” However, the reason why the tanker has become a topic of the UN Security Council is not only the effort to prevent an ecological catastrophe, but also its location and strategic importance.
According to experts, the port of Hudajdá, where the vessel is moored, is key to ensuring the supply of the entire region. UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, told AFP that if the port became unusable as a result of the oil spill, nearly 70,000 fishermen would lose their livelihoods. It would also disrupt international shipping routes or damage seawater desalination plants.
The fundamental problem is that the port of Hudajdá, where the almost fifty-year-old Tanker FSO Safer is located, is controlled by the Husi. They are a Shiite insurgent group supported by Shiite Iran in the region since the beginning of the war five years ago. In addition to the key port in the country, the Husi also control, for example, the capital Sana’a. On the other side of the dispute is the Yemeni government, supported by a Sunni coalition led by Saudi Arabia. The port has considerable extortion potential for the insurgents, which was confirmed in previous years.
The UN has tried to check the condition of the ship several times, according to information from the AP news agency, but without success, as the rebels refused and demanded millions of dollars for oil stored in the tanker, and this has not been the case in recent months. “The Hussi must allow access (to the tanker) before the timed bomb explodes,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said urgently last week.
And in the end it really happened. Late last week, the media reported that the Husians had agreed to an inspection by a UN expert team. “We hope to find a solution now,” commented UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric, adding that the ship would be lightly repaired first.
But the question remains whether it is not too late. A gas leak in the cooling pipe was recorded on the tanker as early as May. “The pipeline subsequently exploded and the water entered the engine room. This has created a really dangerous situation, “said Ian Ralby, the highest representative of the IR Consilium, which monitors the situation in the area. Air enters the oil tanks instead of non-flammable gases, which constantly increases the risk of explosion.
The value of the tanker’s cargo is estimated at $ 40 million (944 million crowns), ie half of what it was before the fall in oil prices. According to experts, however, the real value is even lower, because the raw material has a pathetic quality after years of storage.
After being purchased by the Yemeni government in the 1980s, the tanker served as a transhipment point for Yemeni oil before being exported to other countries. After the start of the war in Yemen, however, his crew left the tanker and the Husians did not let anyone on the ship. After years without proper maintenance, the tanker is now in a desolate state and threatens the safety not only of Yemen, but also of other states.