Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 24 September 2020

Yemen's Houthi rebels must allow UN access to tanker, British ambassador says

Vessel holding a million of barrels of oil could spill its cargo or explode after not being serviced since 2015

The oil tanker 'Safer' off Yemen's Red Sea coast, pictured in March 2005. Getty
The oil tanker 'Safer' off Yemen's Red Sea coast, pictured in March 2005. Getty

Yemen’s Houthi rebels must allow a UN team to inspect a tanker in the Red Sea, which is loaded with more than a million barrels of oil, the British ambassador to the country said on Monday.

The tanker Safer, which has been kept off Yemen's Red Sea coast to operate as a mini-terminal to store and offload oil from Yemen’s inland fields, has reportedly not been used since March 2015, when the region fell under control of the Houthis.

There are serious concerns that the tanker's structure has deteriorated significantly without regular maintenance and that it could explode.

“They just have to give the UN permission to allow an inspection team to go and make an assessment,” ambassador Michael Aron told The National.

“They will probably conclude that the oil needs to be siphoned off and the tanker then dismantled."

The Houthis agreed last August but then reversed their decision.

“There was a team ready to go in. The UN will not have to put together another team,” Mr Aron said.

The UN has repeatedly warned that the tanker was at risk of exploding, possibly causing a disastrous spill in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

A leak or explosion would affect 1.7 million people working in the fishing industry and their families, the UN said.

Yemen plunged into war in 2014 after the Iranian-backed Houthis took over the capital of Sanaa.

The tanker is moored north of Yemen’s main port of Hodeidah, which handles about 70 per cent of the country’s commercial and humanitarian imports.

Yemen’s Minister of Information, Muammar Al Eryani, said that a leak from the tanker would lead to 138 million litres of oil being spilt into the Red Sea.

“This would be four times worse than the Exxon Valdez oil disaster in Alaska in 1989,” Mr Al Eryani said.

He said a tanker explosion “would lead to the closure of the Hodeidah port for several months, which would cause shortages in fuel and necessary humanitarian items, in addition to an increase in fuel prices by 800 per cent".

The prices of goods and food would double, Mr Al Eryani said.

He said the explosion would damage Yemen’s revenues from fishing by $60 million (Dh220.3m) a year.

Updated: June 16, 2020 01:44 AM

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