Oil & Gas 360 Publishers Note: This is very sad for the people of Yemen to have this accident waiting to happen. We hope that the oil can be extracted prior to the break up of the tanker. 

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.

Key points:

  • The Security Council expressed alarm that the Safer oil tanker could rupture, causing an environmental disaster
  • The Exxon Valdez tanker ran into a reef in 1989 and spilled around 11 million gallons of oil
  • Yemen has been mired in conflict since 2014

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.


UN Says ship may spill larger than the Exxon Val - oilandgas360On 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.”

More than 30 years have passed since the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, an unrivalled environmental disaster which forced the United States to set a new standard for response to oil spills.

In March 1989, the Valdez ran into the well-known Bligh Reef and 11 of the ship’s cargo holds were punctured, eventually spilling 11 million gallons of oil.

At its peak, the clean-up efforts included 10,000 workers, about 1,000 boats and roughly 100 aeroplanes and helicopters.

Security council calling on Houthis to allow access

Last week, Houthi officials said they would agree to allow a UN mission to conduct a technical assessment and whatever initial repairs might be feasible on the tanker.

But Mr Lowcock said similar assurances were given in August 2019 and then the Houthis cancelled the mission one day before departure.

“The UN team can deploy within three weeks of receiving all the necessary permits,” he said, adding that experts say eventually “extracting the oil is probably the only way to remove the threat of a spill from the 44-year-old tanker for good.”

The Security Council called on the Houthis to facilitate unconditional UN access to the tanker as soon as possible.

Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Iran-allied Houthi group ousted the government from the capital Sanaa in 2014.

A Saudi-led military coalition in 2015 intervened in a bid to restore the government.

Mr Lowcock said both Yemen’s government and the Houthis first requested UN help with the tanker in March 2018, but then a Saudi-coalition-backed offensive in the area for much of 2018 made it too dangerous to visit the site.

While the Houthis previously agreed to the visit, they imposed preconditions and linked it with other issues, he said.

“The risk from the Safer is by no means strictly environmental, dreadful though the environmental impact would be. It is also a direct and severe threat to the well-being” and potentially the survival of “millions of Yemenis”, Mr Lowcock said.

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