How the FSO Safer is an impending danger to the Red Sea and Yemen

Handout satellite image obtained courtesy of Maxar Technologies on July 19, 2020, shows an overview of the FSO Safer oil tanker off the port of Ras Issa. (AFP)
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Updated 21 September 2020

How the FSO Safer is an impending danger to the Red Sea and Yemen

  • Houthi refusal of passage to experts to carry out repairs has raised specter of a floating time bomb
  • Saudi Arabia has called for a meeting for Arab environment ministers to discuss ways to avoid a catastrophe

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: Until the Iran-backed Houthi militia seized Yemen’s western port city of Hodeidah in late 2014, foreign and local experts had been regularly visiting a 45-year-old oil tanker moored in the Red Sea.

It was a practice that ensured that the FSO Safer, abandoned just a few kilometers off Yemen’s coast, did not touch off a disaster by exploding or sinking and spilling oil. But having witnessed the devastation caused by the Aug. 4 blast in Beirut and taken its lessons to heart, the Arab world cannot afford to ignore the imminent danger posed by Houthi stalling tactics.

Expressing concern about the condition of the vessel, Saudi Arabia has called for a meeting for Arab environment ministers on Monday. According to a statement issued on Sunday by Kamal Hassan, assistant secretary-general and head of the Economic Affairs Sector at the Arab League, the aim of the special session is to discuss ways and mechanisms to activate Resolution No. 582, which was adopted by the Council of Arab Ministers Responsible for Environmental Affairs in Oct. 2019.

The objective is to “find an appropriate solution to avoid an environmental catastrophe due to the failure to maintain the oil ship Safer anchored off the Ras Issa oil port in the Red Sea since 2015.”

When the Houthi militia gained control of Hodeidah, the FSO Safer was carrying 1.1 million barrels of oil, or almost half of its capacity, according to local officials. No sooner had the fighters tightened their grip on the city than technical experts fled the area, realizing that it had become too dangerous for them to stay on.

Over the past two years, the FSO Safer has attracted regional as well as international attention on and off, thanks in part to the regular appearance on social media of photos of rusting pipes and water leaking into the engine rooms, raising the specter of a floating powder keg.

INNUMBERS

45 Age of oil tanker FSO Safer

1.1m Barrels of crude oil in tanker

During the same period, Yemeni government officials, environmentalists and foreign diplomats have sounded the alarm over possible outcomes that could both exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and take a heavy environmental toll on the Red Sea littoral states.

The UN has suggested sending a team of experts to Hodeidah to assess the damage to the FSO Safer, but the Houthi militia, who want to pocket the proceeds from sale of the oil, have rejected the proposal. The oil in the FSO Safer’s storage tanks was once estimated to be worth $40 million, but its value now may be less than half of that as crude prices have fallen a lot since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, according to reports.

The internationally recognized government of Yemen has repeatedly accused the Houthi militia of using the decaying tanker as a bargaining chip, citing demands such as the resumption of salaries for public servants in areas under its control, removal of government forces from Hodeidah, and more relaxed inspection of ships bound for the port.




An oil spill would devastate the livelihoods of nearly four million Yemeni people, with fishing stocks taking 25 years to recover. (AFP)

In July, the government requested the UN Security Council to convene an urgent session to discuss the Safer issue amid concern that time was running out. In almost all their meetings with foreign envoys and diplomats, Yemeni officials bring up the matter of the tanker and the attendant risk of an environmental disaster in the Red Sea. For the past several months, Western and Arab diplomats, UN officials, aid organizations and experts too have underscored the urgency of breaking the deadlock in order to avert a human, economic and environmental catastrophe.

In July, the UN described the rusting tanker as a “ticking time bomb,” adding that the tanker’s cargo of oil could cause an environmental disaster four times bigger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska. Last week, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres added his voice to the growing concern over the deadlock by appealing to the Houthi militia to give UN experts access to the oil tanker.

As for the Trump administration, its views were conveyed via a tweet by the US mission to the UN that said: “The US calls on the Houthis to cease obstruction and interference in aid ops and fuel imports. We urge the Houthis to cease their assault on religious freedom and to permit UN technical teams immediate, unconditional access to the Safer oil tanker.”

In comments in June, Michael Aron, the British ambassador to Yemen, said unless the Houthi leadership allowed experts to address the FSO Safer’s problems, the potential damage to the environment was far greater than that caused by the recent spillage of 20,000 tons of fuel in Russia’s Siberia. “The threat to the environment in the Red Sea is enormous, and will impact on all the countries who share this coastline,” he said.

Independent researchers too say the condition of Safer is deeply concerning. In a paper for the Atlantic Council in 2019 entitled “Why the massive floating bomb in the Red Sea needs urgent attention,” energy experts Dr. Ian Ralby, Dr. David Soud and Rohini Ralby said the potential consequences of an oil-tanker disaster in the area include an end to the two-year ceasefire in Hodeidah and an aggravation of Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.

“The risk of explosion increases by the day, and if that were to happen, not only would it damage or sink any ships in the vicinity, but it would create an environmental crisis roughly four and a half times the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill,” the three scientists said. Other experts have speculated that just a stray bullet from an exchange of fire between rival factions could trigger off an explosion of the FSO Safer’s oil cargo.




Yemeni NGO Holm Akhdar says 126,000 people working in the fishing industry could lose their jobs in the case of a disaster.

“Even worse, given the complexity of this war, an errant bullet or shell from any one of the combatants could trigger a blast as large as Beirut’s August 4th disaster, prompting a historic oil spill,” Dave Harden, managing director of Georgetown Strategy Group, wrote in an op-ed in The Hill last month. He added: “Clean-up efforts would be daunting — given the insecurity of being in a war zone and the additional health risks from COVID-19.”

Similar concerns have been expressed by local government officials and fishermen in Hodeidah. Waleed Al-Qudaimi, deputy governor of Hodeidah, said that any spillage from the FSO Safer would create a humanitarian crisis as severe as the one caused by the Houthi insurgency.

“It (the oil spill) will add an additional burden that will affect Yemen for the next decades, deprive thousands of people of their jobs and destroy marine biodiversity in Yemeni waters,” he said. Al-Qudaimi appealed to the international community to keep up pressure on the militia to allow maintenance work to be carried out.

For a country reeling from a combination of conflict, humanitarian crisis, plunging currency and crumbling economy, repairs to an abandoned oil tanker off its coast might not carry the ring of urgency normally associated with a major disaster.

But now that the world knows what happened when Lebanese officials ignored warnings for years over a cache of highly explosive material stored in a Beirut port warehouse, the importance of resolving the FSO Safer issue cannot be overstated.

Twitter: @saeedalBatati

 

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Israeli guards kill ‘armed’ Palestinian near West Bank settlement

Updated 29 January 2023

Israeli guards kill ‘armed’ Palestinian near West Bank settlement

RAMALLAH: Israeli guards killed a Palestinian near a settlement in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian health officials said Sunday, with the Israeli military alleging he was armed.
Karam Ali Ahmad Salman, 18, was shot dead by “the Israeli occupation near the settlement of ‘Kedumim’,” the Palestinian health ministry reported.
Israel’s army said a “civilian security team” shot a person “armed with a handgun” near the settlement in the northern West Bank.
The Palestinian health ministry reported that Kedumim was built on privately-owned Palestinian land.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War and settlements are regarded as illegal under international law, a charge Israel disputes.
Salman is one of at least 32 Palestinians killed in the West Bank this month, including civilians and militants, according to an AFP tally based on official sources.
A Palestinian gunman killed seven people Friday outside a synagogue in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
In response to the deadly attack, the Israeli government announced a slew of measures including “steps to strengthen settlements.”
The latest violence follows a surge in killings last year.
At least 26 Israelis and 200 Palestinians were killed across Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2022, the majority in the West Bank, according to AFP figures.


Sweden tells citizens to avoid crowds in Turkiye after Qur'an burning

Updated 28 January 2023

Sweden tells citizens to avoid crowds in Turkiye after Qur'an burning

  • Last week Turkiye suspended talks with Sweden and Finland on their applications to join NATO
  • "Swedes in Turkiye are asked to stay updated on the development of events and to avoid large gatherings and demonstrations," the foreign ministry said

STOCKHOLM: Sweden’s foreign ministry on Saturday warned Swedes in Turkiye to avoid crowds and demonstrations following protests there over the burning of the Qur’an by a far-right politician in Stockholm last week.
Last week Turkiye suspended talks with Sweden and Finland on their applications to join NATO after the protest at which Rasmus Paludan, leader of the Danish far-right political party Hard Line, burned a copy of the Qur’an outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.
Paludan’s actions have led to demonstrations in a number of Muslim countries as well as in Turkiye.
“Swedes in Turkiye are asked to stay updated on the development of events and to avoid large gatherings and demonstrations,” the foreign ministry said on its advice page for Swedes abroad.
“Continued demonstrations can be expected outside the embassy in Ankara and the consulate general in Istanbul in the coming days.”
After Paludan’s protest, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said he supported freedom of speech.
“But what is legal is not necessarily appropriate. Burning books that are holy to many is a deeply disrespectful act,” Kristersson said on Twitter.
Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
They need support from all 30 members of the Alliance. Turkiye has said Sweden in particular must first take a clearer stance against what it sees as terrorists, mainly Kurdish militants and a group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt, in order for it to back NATO membership for the two Nordic countries.


New gun attack in east Jerusalem after synagogue mass shooting

Updated 29 January 2023

New gun attack in east Jerusalem after synagogue mass shooting

  • Police said the suspect was “neutralized” following the latest gun attack in the Silwan neighborhood
  • Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency response service identified the victims as two men, aged 47 and 23

JERUSALEM: An assailant shot and wounded two people in east Jerusalem on Saturday, Israeli medics said, hours after a Palestinian gunman killed seven outside a synagogue in one of the deadliest such attacks in years.
Police said the suspect was “neutralized” following the latest gun attack in the Silwan neighborhood, just outside Jerusalem’s old, walled city.
Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency response service identified the victims as two men, aged 47 and 23, both with “gunshot wounds to their upper body.” It did not identify those involved.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that Israel's response to an attack by a Palestinian gunman attack that killed seven people on the outskirts of Jerusalem will be "strong, swift and precise" .
Netanyahu made the statement as he convened his security cabinet over Friday's attack. 
Police had earlier announced 42 arrests in connection with Friday’s synagogue attack.
The mass shooting unfolded as a 21-year-old resident of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem drove up to the synagogue in the Neve Yaakov neighborhood and opened fire during the Jewish Sabbath.
The bloodshed, which unfolded on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marked another dramatic escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It came a day after one of the deadliest army raids in the occupied West Bank in roughly two decades, as well as rocket fire from militants in the Gaza Strip and Israeli retaliatory air strikes.
There have widespread calls to de-escalate the spiralling violence, but tensions are rising.
Crowds shouted “Death to Arabs” as Netanyahu toured the scene of the synagogue attack late Friday.
Palestinians also held spontaneous rallies to celebrate the killings, in Gaza and across the West Bank, including in Ramallah where large crowds swarmed the streets chanting and waving Palestinian flags.
Several Arab nations that have ties with Israel-- including Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates — condemned the synagogue shooting.
The Lebanese group Hezbollah, one of Israel’s most prominent foes, praised the attack as “heroic,” voicing “absolute support for all the steps taken by the Palestinian resistance factions.”

The gunman at the synagogue was shot dead by police during a shootout that followed a brief car chase after the attack.
There has been no indication that he had prior involvement in militant activity or was a member of an established Palestinian armed group.
“The Jerusalem District Police and border police fighters arrested 42 suspects — some of them from the terrorist’s (immediate) family, relatives and (neighbors),” a police statement said.
“The police will thoroughly examine the connection between each of the arrested suspects and the terrorist who carried out the attack, as well as the extent of their knowledge and/or involvement,” it added.
In a separate statement, police said the force had been placed on the “highest level” of alert following the attack.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem following the 1967 Six-Day War. Palestinians claim the area as the capital of their future state.
Israel’s police chief Kobi Shabtai called the shooting “one of the worst attacks (Israel) has encountered in recent years.”

Nine people had been killed Thursday in what Israel described as a “counter-terrorism” operation in the Jenin refugee camp.
It was one of the deadliest Israeli army raids in the occupied West Bank since the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, of 2000 to 2005.
Israel said Islamic Jihad operatives were the target.
Islamic Jihad and Hamas both vowed to retaliate, later firing several rockets at Israeli territory.
Most of the rockets were intercepted by Israeli air defenses. The military responded with strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza.
There were no injuries reported on either side, but Gaza’s armed groups vowed further action.
After the synagogue shooting, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said the attack proved “the resistance knows how to find the appropriate response” to Israeli “crimes.”
Washington had announced Thursday that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would travel next week to Israel and the Palestinian territories, where he would push for an “end to the cycle of violence.”
A US State Department spokesman confirmed on Friday that the visit would go ahead and said Blinken would discuss “steps to be taken to de-escalate tensions.”
At least 26 Israelis and 200 Palestinians were killed across Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2022, the majority in the West Bank, according to an AFP tally from official sources.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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Seven killed in synagogue attack as West Bank violence spirals

Updated 28 January 2023

Seven killed in synagogue attack as West Bank violence spirals

  • Gunman identified as a 21-year-old Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem who appeared to have acted alone
  • Attack comes amid escalating violence in occupied West Bank, including the shooting of 3 Palestinians by an Israeli land-grabber in Nablus

JERUSALEM: A Palestinian gunman opened fire outside an east Jerusalem synagogue Friday night, killing seven people, including a 70-year-old woman, and wounding three others before he was shot and killed by police, officials said. It was the deadliest attack on Israelis in years and raised the likelihood of more bloodshed.
The attack, which occurred as residents were observing the Jewish sabbath, came a day after an Israeli military raid killed nine people in the West Bank. The shooting set off celebrations in both the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, where people fired guns into the air, honked horns and distributed sweets.
The burst of violence, which also included a rocket barrage from Gaza and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes, has posed an early challenge for Israel’s new government, which is dominated by ultranationalists who have pushed for a hard line against Palestinian violence. It also cast a cloud over a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the region Sunday.
Addressing reporters at Israel’s national police headquarters, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had held a security assessment and decided on “immediate actions.” He said he would convene his Security Cabinet on Saturday night, after the end of the sabbath, to discuss a further response.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) visits the site of an attack in a settler neighborhood of Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem on Jan. 27, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP) 

Netanyahu declined to elaborate but said Israel would act with “determination and composure.” He called on the public not to take the law into their own hands.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the US strongly condemned the attack and was “shocked and saddened by the loss of life,” noting it came on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
US officials said later Friday that President Joe Biden spoke with Netanyahu to offer US support to the government and people of Israel, calling the shootings “an attack against the civilized world.” “The President stressed the iron-clad US commitment to Israel’s security,” the White House said of the call.
Israeli police said the shootings occurred in Neve Yaakov, a neighborhood with a large ultra-Orthodox population, and that the gunman fled in a car. Police said they chased after him and after an exchange of fire, killed him.
Jerusalem police chief Doron Turjeman confirmed seven deaths, in addition to the shooter, and said three people were wounded.
Police identified the attacker as a 21-year-old east Jerusalem resident who apparently acted alone. Turjeman promised an “aggressive and significant” effort to track down anyone who helped him.
Police also released a photo of the pistol it said was used by the attacker.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant huddled with Israel’s military chief and other top security officials and instructed them to assist police and strengthen defenses near Jerusalem and for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“Israel’s defense establishment will operate decisively and forcefully against terror and will reach anyone involved in the attack,” Gallant said.
Israel’s MADA rescue service said the dead victims were five men and two women, including several who were 60 or older. Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital said a 15-year-old boy was recovering from surgery.

The attack was the deadliest on Israelis since a 2008 shooting killed eight people in a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem, according to the Foreign Ministry. Given the location and timing, it threatened to trigger a tough response from Israel.
Overnight Thursday, Gaza militants fired a barrage of rockets into southern Israel, with all of them either intercepted or landing in open areas. Israel responded with airstrikes on targets in Gaza. No casualties were reported, and calm had appeared to be taking hold before Friday night’s shooting.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. In Gaza, Hazem Qassem, spokesman for the ruling Hamas militant group, said the attack was “a revenge and natural response” to the deadly military raid Thursday.
At several locations across the Gaza Strip, dozens of Palestinians gathered in spontaneous demonstrations to celebrate the Jerusalem attack, with some coming out of dessert shops with large trays of sweets to distribute.
In downtown Gaza City, celebratory gunfire could be heard, as cars honked and calls of “God is great!” wafted from mosque loudspeakers. In various West Bank towns, Palestinians launched fireworks.
The attack escalated tensions that were already heightened following Thursday’s raid in the town of Jenin, where nine people, including at least seven militants and a 61-year-old woman, were killed. It was the deadliest single raid in the West Bank in two decades. A 10th Palestinian was killed in separate fighting near Jerusalem.
Angry Palestinians marched Friday as they buried the last of those killed a day earlier.
Scuffles between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters erupted after the funeral for a 22-year-old Palestinian north of Jerusalem and elsewhere in the occupied West Bank, but calm prevailed in the contested capital and in the blockaded Gaza Strip for most of the day.

That suddenly dissolved with the east Jerusalem shooting, described as “horrific and heartbreaking” by Yair Lapid, the opposition leader and former prime minister.
Neve Yaakov is a religious Jewish settlement that Israel considers to be a neighborhood of its capital. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as a capital of their future state.
Blinken’s trip will probably now focus heavily on lowering tensions. He is likely to discuss the underlying causes of the conflict, the agenda of Israel’s new far-right government and the Palestinian Authority’s decision to halt security coordination with Israel in retaliation for the raid.
The Biden administration has been deeply engaged with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in recent days, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said, underscoring the “urgent need here for all parties to deescalate to prevent the further loss of civilian life and to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank.”
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several smaller skirmishes since the militant group seized power in Gaza from rival forces in 2007.
Tensions have soared since Israel stepped up raids in the West Bank last spring, following a series of Palestinian attacks.
Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 2022, making it the deadliest year in those territories since 2004, according to leading Israeli rights group B’Tselem. Last year, 30 people were killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis.
So far this year, 30 Palestinians have been killed, according to a count by The Associated Press.
Israel says most of the dead were militants. But youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations also have been killed.
Israel says its raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart attacks. The Palestinians say they further entrench Israel’s 55-year, open-ended occupation of the West Bank, captured along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war.


Protests against Qur’an burning held across the Middle East

Updated 27 January 2023

Protests against Qur’an burning held across the Middle East

  • The protests in countries including Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon ended with people dispersing peacefully
  • Swedish officials have stressed that freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Swedish Constitution

BEIRUT: Protests were held Friday in several predominantly Muslim countries to denounce the recent desecration of Islam’s holy book by far-right activists in Sweden and the Netherlands.
The protests in countries including Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon ended with people dispersing peacefully. In Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad, police officers stopped some demonstrators trying to march toward the Swedish Embassy.
About 12,000 Islamists from the Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party rallied in Lahore, the capital of the eastern Punjab province to denounce the desecration of the Qur’an in the two European countries. In his speech to the demonstrators, Saad Rizvi, the head of the TLP, asked the government to lodge a strong protest with Sweden and the Netherlands so that such incidents don’t happen again.
Similar rallies were also held in the southern city of Karachi and in the northwest.
Friday’s rallies dispersed peacefully. However, Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan in recent years has held violent rallies over the publication of caricatures of Islam’s prophet in France and elsewhere in the world.
In the Iranian capital of Tehran, hundreds of people marched after Friday prayers during which they burned a Swedish flag.
In Beirut, about 200 angry protesters burned the flags of Sweden and the Netherlands outside the blue-domed Mohammed Al-Amin mosque at Beirut’s central Martyrs Square.
Earlier this month, Rasmus Paludan, a far-right activist from Denmark, received permission from police to stage a protest outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm where he burned the Qur’an.
Days later, Edwin Wagensveld, Dutch leader of the far-right Pegida movement in the Netherlands, tore pages out of a copy of the Qur’an near the Dutch Parliament and stomped on them.
The moves angered millions of Muslims around the world and triggered protests.
On Friday, Paludan, who holds both Danish and Swedish citizenship, told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet that he would replicate the protest in front of the Turkish Embassy in Copenhagen every Friday until Sweden is admitted into NATO.
Turkiye’s state-run Anadolu Agency said the Danish ambassador was summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry where Turkish officials “strongly condemned the permission given to this provocative act which clearly constitutes a hate crime.”
Swedish officials have stressed that freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Swedish Constitution and gives people extensive rights to express their views publicly, though incitement to violence or hate speech isn’t allowed. Demonstrators must apply to police for a permit for a public gathering. Police can deny such permits only on exceptional grounds, such as risks to public safety.
Iraq’s powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr asked in comments released Friday whether freedom of speech means offending other people’s beliefs. He asked why “doesn’t the burning of the gays’ rainbow flag represent freedom of expression.”
The cleric added that burning the Qur’an “will bring divine anger.”
Hundreds of his supporters gathered outside a mosque in Baghdad waving copies of the Qur’an.