Houthis back down over access to ‘ticking timebomb’ Red Sea tanker

Critics say the Houthis have been using the Safer to blackmail Yemen’s legitimate government into offering concessions in peace talks brokered by the UN and to enable them to sell the vessel’s oil. (AP)
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Updated 13 July 2020

Houthis back down over access to ‘ticking timebomb’ Red Sea tanker

  • UN technical team set to board stricken vessel to avert environmental disaster from 1.4m-barrel oil spill

JEDDAH: Houthi militias in Yemen finally backed down on Sunday over access to a stricken oil storage vessel to prevent it from leaking more than a million barrels of crude into the Red Sea.

Engineers from a UN inspection team are now expected to board the FSO Safer in the next few days to assess the vessel’s condition and carry out emergency repairs.

The 45-year-old Safer has been moored 7 km off the coast of Yemen since 1988. It is stationary, with no engine or means of propulsion. The vessel fell into the hands of the Iran-backed Houthis in March 2015, when they took control of the coast around the port city of Hodeidah.

The militants have refused for more than 5 years to allow international engineers to board the Safer to carry out essential repairs, and as the vessel’s condition deteriorates there are fears that the 1.4 million barrels of oil it contains will start to seep out. A breach would have disastrous results for Red Sea marine life and tens of thousands of people who depend on fishing for their livelihood.

Apart from corrosion, essential work on reducing explosive gases in the storage tanks has been neglected for years. The Yemen government has warned the Safer could explode and cause “the largest environmental disaster, regionally and globally.”

FASTFACTS

  • The 45-year-old Safer has been moored 7 km off the coast of Yemen since 1988.
  • It is stationary, with no engine or means of propulsion.
  • The Yemen government has warned the Safer could explode and cause a regional and global environmental disaster.

 The latest problem came in May with a leak in a cooling pipe. “The pipe burst, sending water into the engine room and creating a really dangerous situation,” said Ian Ralby, chief executive of the maritime consultancy IR Consilium.

If the vessel ruptures, “you’re going to have two catastrophes,” said Lise Grande, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.

 “There’s going to be an environmental catastrophe that’s bigger than almost any other similar kind ... and it’s going to be a humanitarian catastrophe because that oil will make the port of Hodeidah unusable.”

Critics say the Houthis have been using the Safer to blackmail Yemen’s legitimate government into offering concessions in peace talks brokered by the UN and to enable them to sell the vessel’s oil. Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed wants the proceeds from selling the oil to be spent on health care and humanitarian aid.

Crude stored in the Safer’s tanks is worth about $40 million, half what it was before prices crashed, and experts say it may be of poor quality and worthless.

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Brian Hook: Arms embargo to be extended one way or another

Updated 7 min 52 sec ago

Brian Hook: Arms embargo to be extended one way or another

  • The special representative for Iran asked members to respect the wishes of Middle East nations that “live in Iran’s dark shadow” and vote for the extension.

NEW YORK: The US has introduced a draft UN Security Council resolution to extend the Iran arms embargo on Iran which expires in October.

In a telephonic press briefing, Brian Hook, the special representative for Iran, said the resolution was “a clean rollover of the existing arms embargo” which was put in place in 2007.

“Letting the arms embargo expire was a big deficiency of the Iran nuclear deal. Its expiration should never have been based on an artificial timeline of five years. It was an irresponsible concession,” he said.

Hook called the new proposal “a compromise text” with the US adding provisions that had been supported by all permanent members of the council.

US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft called on all members to “wake up to the real world implications of allowing the arms embargo to lapse. The UNSC’s purpose is to promote global peace and security. Failure to extend the arms embargo would make a mockery of that responsibility.”

Hook asked members to respect the wishes of Middle East nations that “live in Iran’s dark shadow” and vote for the extension.

The diplomat read a quote from a letter by the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), who came together to ask the council to extend the arms embargo.

“(Iran) has continued to proliferate weapons across the region as an integral part of its expansionist regional policy and longstanding interference in the internal affairs of Arab states, including GCC member states, in clear violation of the UN Charter. We have stressed that Iran has been a state sponsor of terrorism in our region and has actively incubated, trained, equipped, and directed violent armed terrorists throughout the region.”
 

Hook urged council members to respect the wishes of those closest to the conflict and vote for the extension:

“Abstaining may carry a certain appeal for those who want to have it both ways, to express concern without addressing the concern. But abstentions will not be forgotten by nations in the region who are counting on council members to vote yes.”

Hook resigned this week. Asked by Arab News what his successor, Elliott Abrams, would bring to the table, Hook said: “People are getting an upgrade. He has been working on the Middle East’s issues for decades. He will do a great job on this file.”

Abrams’s nomination had immediately triggered speculations that a “snapback activation” would follow.

Critics argue that since the US pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran, it is legally unable to trigger the snapback move, which faces opposition from Russia and China.

In answer to the claim, the US has circulated a legal memo explaining its rights under resolution 2231 to initiate the snapback.

“It’s important for people to define their terms. The Iran deal is a political arrangement consisting of non-binding political commitments,” Hook said. “So those who argue that a state cannot avail itself of legal rights if it is in violation of corresponding legal obligations don’t know how to read 2231.”

But Hook reiterated the administration’s present focus was on the arms embargo, and ensuring that it passes. “We certainly made the case on the merits for why it needs to be extended, and we’ll see how the council lines up. But … one way or the other, we are going to ensure that the arms embargo is extended,” he said.
 

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