‘Biggest oil spill in history’ fears as FSO Safer tanker stalemate continues

An aging, rusting vessel carrying 1.1million barrels of Marib light crude is a major risk to the environment, potentially causing a incident four times bigger than the Exxon Valdez catastrophe.

Anchored in the Red Sea just four miles off the coast of Yemen, the abandoned FSO Safer tanker urgently needs to be secured in order to prevent one of the most significant ecological catastrophes in history from unfolding. 

A survey of the situation by Greenpeace Research Laboratories suggests the impact could be much more severe and widespread than originally believed. Neighbouring countries – including Djibouti, Eritrea, and Saudi Arabia – and vast swathes of maritime waters would feel the fallout, which is particularly worrying given the Red Sea is considered one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. 

low angle photo of brown boat

So far, attempts to safeguard the ship have proven unsuccessful as a result of conflict in the area. Yemen’s civil war, now in its seventh year, has led to one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. This could now be further exacerbated if the boat’s toxic cargo spills into the sea.

Access to the ports of Hodeidah and Salif, through which 67% of aid arrives into the conflict-torn country – enough for around 8.4million people – would be impeded. Desalinisation plants, used to turn sea water into fresh, would also be impacted, while fisheries, which continue to provide a vital source of income for the local population, would likely close as a result. 

‘We accept that there are big challenges in removing the oil securely from the Safer, but the barriers to undertaking this are not technical but political. The technology and expertise to transfer the oil to other tankers exist, but despite months of negotiations we are still at a stalemate,’ said Paul Horsman, Project Lead Safer Response Team at Greenpeace International.

‘Governments and the oil industry have a moral obligation to take ambitious action and stop putting people and pristine ecosystems like the Red Sea at risk for the sake of continued dependence on climate-wrecking fossil fuels,’ he continued. 

Countries including Bahrain, Norway, the Netherlands, UK, France and Germany have sent oil spill response hardware in the area.  Should the worst happen, it would be the second major crude catastrophe this year, with a tanker anchored in Peru, owned by Spanish firm Repsol, releasing 6,000 barrels into the Pacific Ocean last week after being hit by tsunami waves following the eruption of an underwater volcano in Tonga.  

Image credit: Shawn Henry



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