A decaying tanker holds about four times the amount of oil leaked in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. Experts have warned that it is an ecological time bomb that could explode or disintegrate at any moment.
A United Nations operation to avert a catastrophic oil spill in the Red Sea by salvaging a decaying supertanker off the coast of Yemen is moving forward this week after years of delays.
The oil tanker, the FSO Safer, holds more than one million barrels of oil, about four times the amount leaked in the disastrous Exxon Valdez spill of 1989.
A crew that plans to inspect the rusting tanker set sail on Monday from Djibouti in East Africa to the port of Hudaydah on Yemen’s west coast, arriving on Tuesday. The tanker is moored north of the port city and was once the site of fierce battles in the country’s eight-year-old war, which created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
If all goes as planned, the team’s inspection will pave the way for an operation to transfer the oil to a seaworthy tanker purchased by the United Nations this year.
The FSO Safer originally functioned as a floating storage facility fed by a pipeline that carried oil from eastern Yemen. But the war left it isolated, and it has been poorly maintained for years, prompting the United Nations and Yemeni experts to repeatedly warn that it is an ecological time bomb that could explode or disintegrate at any moment.
If the oil from the tanker spilled, it would ravage marine life as well as the fishermen and coastal communities that depend on it. It could shutter ports crucial to bringing in desperately needed humanitarian aid in a country where hunger is rife.
It could also force the closure of desalination plants that supply water to millions of people.
“The consequences of not doing anything would be dire and devastating,” said Mohammed al-Hakimi, the head of Holm Akhdar, an environmental consulting firm in the Yemeni capital, Sana. Leaks or an explosion could create “a major environmental disaster within a humanitarian crisis,” he added…
Illustration at Top: Average surface oil concentration of 1,000 simulated spills in the winter (a,b,c) and in the summer (d,e,f) from the study “Public health impacts of an imminent Red Sea oil spill”(illustration by authors Benjamin Q. Huynh, Laura H. Kwong, Mathew V. Kiang, Elizabeth T. Chin, Amir M. Mohareb, Aisha O. Jumaan, Sanjay Basu, Pascal Geldsetzer, Fatima M. Karaki, David H. Rehkopf, CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia).
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Super tanker anchored off Yemen coast is likely to sink or explode at any moment, UN says