November 26 ------ After months of stalled negations, UN representatives said they have received official permission to inspect and repair an aging FSO off Ras Issa, Yemen. Since 2019, the UN has been sounding the alarm that the vessel built in 1976 and not maintained in over five years poised a serious environmental threat to the region. The FSO Safer is believed to be holding about 1.1 million barrels of oil stored in her tanks. Called a ticking time bomb, the UN said that the condition of the 1,188-foot single-hull vessel was unknown. Visible signs of decay from lack of maintenance have led to several alarms that the vessel would cause an environmental disaster in the Red Sea. In addition, sitting near a port contested in the war, there are concerns that it could be shelled or damaged in the conflict.
In May 2020, there were reports of a small internal leak believed to be in the engine room. While repairs were made, the vessel’s owners said they were unable to maintain the tanker. There are also concerns because the vessel’s cargo has not been properly degassed in years raising fears of ignition in a catastrophe. The Houthi rebel forces that control the area have not allowed international inspectors to access the Safer, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. They repeated blocked attempts to send inspectors to the vessel and delayed negations for access.
In his daily briefing on November 24, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General said “I can tell you that we have now received an official letter from the de facto Ansar Allah authorities indicating their approval for the UN proposal for the planned expert mission to the tanker.” He said this followed several weeks of constructive technical exchanges on the activities that will be undertaken by the expert team. The objective of the UN-led expert mission is to assess the vessel and undertake initial light maintenance, as well as to formulate recommendations on what further action is required to neutralize the risk of an oil spill.
The UN team will immediately focus on deployment preparations. This includes the procurement of necessary equipment, entry permits for the staff, agreement of a work-order system onboard, and logistical planning. The de facto authorities have assured the UN that they will provide all the necessary facilitation to ensure that the expert team can deploy as quickly as possible. The UN anticipates that its team will begin the work of stabilizing the vessel in January or February 2021.