Reports & News

A "floating bomb" off Yemen's Red Sea coast , pictured in March 2005. Getty

Thu - 09 May 2019 - 07:46 PM ،،،

thenational


 Houthi rebels are blocking United Nations access to an unmaintained oil tanker described as a "floating bomb" moored off of Yemen’s Red Sea coast, one that officials say is an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen.

The chief of the Iran-backed Zaidi Shiite rebels is demanding a share of revenue from the sale of around one million barrels of oil that remain aboard the FSO Safer, a vessel that the UN warned nearly a month ago is at risk of exploding, potentially causing a disastrous oil spill in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

It is a dangerous bargaining chip, worth tens of millions of dollars, that presents a potentially lucrative windfall for the rebels amid a four-year civil war.

The FSO Safer once served as Yemen’s main oil export facility, a floating storage and offloading vessel (FSO) moored roughly 50 kilometres northwest of Yemen’s critical port city of Hodeidah, the entry point for the majority of the war-wracked country’s humanitarian aid and imports.

But since falling under Houthi control in 2015, the FSO Safer has received no maintenance, allowing explosive gases to build up in the vessel’s storage tanks.

Experts and Yemeni ministers have been warning for over a year that the vessel needs urgent maintenance, with a report by the Atlantic Council, a US-based think tank, calling it a “floating bomb”.

A rupture could unleash a catastrophe four times larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, which poured 260,000 barrels of crude into Prince William Sound Alaska.

“Without maintenance, we fear that it will rupture or even explode, unleashing an environmental disaster,” the UN’s humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council on April 15, noting that Houthi approvals to carry out an assessment of the vessel have been pending since last September.