A United Nations agency announced on Friday that it has successfully completed the operation to remove approximately one million barrels of oil from a deteriorating tanker off the coast of Yemen. This achievement is seen as a major milestone in averting a potentially catastrophic disaster, according to Achim Steiner, the administrator of the UN’s Development Programme who oversaw the salvage efforts.
For several years, UN officials and activist groups have been warning about the risks associated with the decaying Safer vessel off Yemen’s Red Sea coast. There were concerns that the tanker could rupture or explode, leading to severe humanitarian and environmental consequences for the entire Red Sea coastline.
The cargo ship has been moored off Yemen for over three decades and has not undergone proper maintenance since the early stages of the Yemeni Civil War that began in late 2014. Steiner emphasized that preparations and risk mitigation measures were of utmost importance in ensuring the success of this operation.
To fund the operation, the UN agency raised more than $120 million. The funds were used to purchase a second ship for the transfer of fuel and to establish mitigation measures in case of spillage. The salvage crew faced numerous challenges, including working in a coastal zone littered with sea mines, sweltering summer temperatures, and strong currents. Despite these obstacles, they managed to complete the transfer within 18 days.
Steiner expressed that the ideal outcome would be when the oil is sold and leaves the region altogether. The warring sides in the Yemen conflict had previously blamed each other for obstructing the safe removal of the oil. However, the process of how the transaction involving the oil will be handled remains uncertain. UN officials are currently initiating negotiations with the conflicting groups in Yemen to determine a proceed-sharing agreement for the crude. The majority ownership of the oil lies with the Yemen state gas and oil company SEPOC.
The civil war in Yemen began in 2014 when the Houthi militant group took control of the capital city, Sanaa, forcing the government into exile. In response, a Saudi Arabia-led international coalition intervened in 2015 with the aim of reinstalling the previous leadership, resulting in a prolonged bombing campaign.
This successful removal of oil from the deteriorating tanker marks a significant step in mitigating the potential risks to both the people and environment of the Red Sea coastline. The efforts of the UN agency, along with the financial support and cooperation of various parties, have prevented a potential disaster from unfolding. Moving forward, the focus will be on negotiating a shared-proceeds agreement for the sale of the crude oil, ensuring that the region can recover and safeguard against future risks.