Middle east

This Little-Talked About Vessel Off Yemen Threatens to Halt Red Sea Shipping, Spark Mass Extinctions

The Safer floating oil storage facility moored off Yemen’s west coast became an international security concern during the Yemeni civil war, with the vessel threatening to leak over a million barrels of crude oil into the Red Sea, a global strategic shipping artery which also contains a unique and diverse array of marine life.

Muhammad Ali Al-Houthi, leader of Yemen’s Houthi militia movement, has fired off a series of tweets warning about the condition of the Safer, urging the United Nations to do something before the ship loses hull integrity, causing its toxic cargo to ooze into the Red Sea.

In a tweet late last month congratulating Egypt for unclogging the Suez Canal in the wake of the Ever Given incident, al-Houthi recalled the situation surrounding the Safer, reiterating the Houthis’ calls on the UN to fulfill their promises to deal with the situation.

“If God forbid, an environmental catastrophe were to occur as a result of the explosion of the ship, the world would stop not for a week, as was the case in the Suez, but for a much longer period of time…And we would hold them responsible,” he wrote.

Al-Houthi repeated his plea on Sunday, tweeting that after being informed of the risk of a leak turning into an environmental disasters, the Houthis invited UN experts to defuse the situation. “Months and days passed without a response, and it was demonstrated to the world that their slogans are false and that their actions were to serve US, British, Saudi and Emirati aggression and that of their allies against the Yemeni Republic. We reiterate that the United Nations will be held fully responsible for any leakage.”

On Wednesday, the militia leader suggested that the “latest excuse” made by the UN for not sending its team to the Safer was that they would need a million dollars in additional insurance if they are not met at a specific spot at sea or have to bring the ship carrying the experts to port.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, responded to al-Houthi’s tweets earlier this week, suggesting that it was “not useful to negotiate these things via public statements,” and arguing that the UN was “eager, which is probably the understatement of the year, to get people on board the tanker.”

/ B.alotaby / Riyadh Skyline
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Meanwhile, Moammar al-Eryani, the information minister of the Saudi-backed Yemeni government, has accused the Houthis of “using the FSO Safer as a time bomb and a means to blackmail and pressure the international community for political and material gains,” and claimed that the militia were “not interested in the looming environmental, economic and humanitarian disaster” that would ensue if the Safer leaked or exploded.

The Safer is moored several kilometers off al-Hudaydah, the strategic Yemeni port city once entirely controlled by the Houthis, but which became a line of contact between the militia and pro-Saudi forces after the latter launched a major operation to capture the city in 2018.

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