Huthi rebels in Yemen have agreed to a UN mission to inspect and repair the abandoned fuel tanker Safer – currently anchored off Hodeida and at risk of causing an oil spill – the UN said on November 24.
The operation could begin by late January or early February, the UN spokesman said.
The UN has been trying to assess and secure the ship for years, but the Iran-backed Huthis – who control much of Yemen’s north – have so far denied the international body access as the country has fought a bloody civil war since 2014.
Stephane Dujarric said during his daily press conference: “We have now received an official letter [from the Huthis] on Saturday [November 21], indicating their approval for the UN proposals for the planned expert mission to the tanker.
“We still have to work out the exact deployment timeline because it’s going to depend on the market availability of the required equipment,” he said.
Asked how this plan is different from the one the Huthis agreed to in July, Dujarric stressed that the new accord, reached on November 21, is more formal.
He said: “It represents an important step forward in this critical work.
“The objective of the UN mission is to assess the vessel and undertake initial maintenance as well as to formulate recommendations on what further action is required to neutralise the risk of an oil spill.”
The 45-year-old floating storage and offloading unit (FSO) Safer, abandoned near the western port of Hodeida since 2015, has 1.1 million barrels of crude on board, and a rupture or explosion would have disastrous environmental and humanitarian consequences – it is only about 60km from the nearest inhabited areas.
Apart from corrosion to the ageing vessel, essential work to curb explosive gases in its storage tanks has been neglected for years.
The UN has said an oil spill could be “catastrophic”, destroying Red Sea ecosystems, shutting down the fishing industry and closing Yemen’s lifeline Hodeida port for six months.