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)
Short Url
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

 

Related


Turkish missiles used in Syria include Europe-produced parts

Updated 06 December 2022

Turkish missiles used in Syria include Europe-produced parts

  • An analysis of the components of the wreckage found that the missiles were manufactured by Roketsan, a Turkish defense manufacturer
  • The missiles included components made by US, Chinese and European companies

BEIRUT: Commercial brakes produced by a Dutch company to be used in ambulances in Turkiye instead ended up in missiles used by Turkiye in attacks in northeastern Syria, a report released Tuesday said.
Between September 2021 and June 2022, field investigators with London-based Conflict Armament Research analyzed the remnants of 17 air-to-surface missiles used in strikes in northeast Syria, the report said. An analysis of the components of the wreckage found that the missiles were manufactured by Roketsan, a Turkish defense manufacturer.
The missiles included components made by US, Chinese and European companies, among them electromagnetic brakes with “markings and characteristics consistent with production by (Netherlands-based company) Kendrion NV,” the report said.
Representatives of Kendrion told researchers that the company had agreed in 2018 to supply 20-25,000 brakes to a Turkish company called FEMSAN, with the stated purpose of using them on blood analysis machines fitted to ambulances, the report said. After being notified that the brakes were being used in military applications, Kendrion said it had cut off its business relationship with the Turkish company, the report noted.
FEMSAN did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while representatives of Roketsan could not be reached for comment.
The research was carried out before the most recent round of Turkish airstrikes in northeast Syria, launched last month in response to a deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul that Ankara blames on Kurdish groups based in Syria — an allegation that the groups deny. Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also threatened a ground incursion.
The report did not allege that the sellers of the components used in the missiles had violated any laws, noting that “while the EU has had an arms embargo related to Syria itself since 2011, (Turkiye) has never been subject to sanctions at the multilateral level.”
It added that the case “highlights both the critical importance and the relative complexity of commercial due diligence for material of these types” which “may serve multiple purposes, some of which the manufacturer may not even be aware, and which may be extremely sensitive.”


Al Jazeera files lawsuit against Israeli forces at ICC over killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

Updated 06 December 2022

Al Jazeera files lawsuit against Israeli forces at ICC over killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

  • Case follows an investigation into journalist’s killing by news network’s legal team
  • Israeli Prime Minister says that no one would be allowed to question Israeli soldiers

DUBAI: Al Jazeera on Tuesday said it has filed a lawsuit at the International Criminal Court against Israeli forces over the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot during an Israeli raid in the West Bank in May.

The lawsuit follows an investigation by the television news network’s legal team, Al Jazeera said on Twitter.

The ICC must identify the individuals who were directly involved in Abu Akleh’s killing, Al Jazeera lawyer Rodney Dixon KC told a news conference in The Hague on Tuesday.

“The rulings of the International Criminal Court stipulate that those responsible be investigated and held accountable. Otherwise, they bear the same responsibility as if they were the ones who opened fire,” Dixon said.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Tuesday that no one would question Israeli soldiers.

“No one will interrogate IDF soldiers and no one will preach to us about morals of combat, certainly not the Al Jazeera network,” Lapid said.


Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary

Updated 06 December 2022

Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary

  • Another 11 people, including 3 children, were handed lengthy jail terms

TEHRAN: Iran has sentenced to death five people over the killing of a member of the Basij paramilitary force during nationwide protests, the judiciary said Tuesday.
Another 11 people, including three children, were handed lengthy jail terms over the death of Ruhollah Ajamian, judiciary spokesman Massoud Setayeshi told a news conference, adding the sentences could be appealed.
A group of 15 people had been charged with “corruption on earth” over the death of Ajamian on November 3 in Karaj, a city west of Tehran, the judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported last week.
Prosecutors said Ajamian, 27, was stripped naked and killed by a group of mourners who had been paying tribute to a slain protester, Hadis Najafi, during ceremonies marking 40 days since her death.
Najafi was killed during unrest that has gripped Iran since the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, after her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code for women.
Initially, on November 12, Mizan Online announced charges for 11 people over Ajamian’s killing, including a woman but as the trial opened, it said 15 defendants in the case had been charged.
An Iranian general said on Monday that more than 300 people have been killed in the unrest, including dozens of members of the security forces.
Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands have been arrested, including 40 foreigners and prominent actors, journalists and lawyers.
The latest court rulings bring to 11 the number of people sentenced to death in Iran over the violence sparked by Amini’s death.

Related


How Israel, Jordan and Palestine can cooperate to slow Dead Sea’s demise 

Updated 06 December 2022

How Israel, Jordan and Palestine can cooperate to slow Dead Sea’s demise 

  • Water levels have been falling over the past half century, endangering the salt lake’s very existence
  • Joint effort to revive the Jordan River and a canal to the Mediterranean Sea among potential solutions

AMMAN: From Greco-Roman times, the Dead Sea’s unique equilibrium was finely balanced by nature. Fresh water from nearby rivers and springs flowed into the lake, combining with rich salt deposits and then evaporating, leaving behind a brine of 33 percent salinity.

Now, owing to a combination of climatic and man-made factors, this balance has been disrupted. As a result, the Dead Sea has been receding at an alarming rate over the past half century, endangering its very existence.

The Dead Sea has been receding at an alarming rate over the past half century. (AFP)

At the UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, held in Egypt’s resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh in November, a joint Israeli-Jordanian agreement was signed to try to address the Dead Sea’s decline.

However, given that the deal excluded the Palestinians and was signed by an outgoing Israeli environment ministry official, some say that its chances of success are low.

Without sufficient funding, and in the absence of a three-way agreement, Jordan and Israel have instead decided to focus on cleaning up the Jordan River to help replenish the Dead Sea’s main water source.

What was signed by Israeli and Jordanian officials on the sidelines of COP27 was an agreement to this effect. But if the Dead Sea is to be rescued from impending oblivion, it is clear that far more needs to be done to undo the damage to its natural freshwater sources and to set aside political rivalries for the common environmental good.

No one knows exactly how the Dead Sea came into being. The Bible and other religious texts suggest this lifeless, salty lake at the lowest point on Earth was created when God rained down fire and brimstone on the sinful towns of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Russian experts have even tried excavating under the lake bed in the hope of finding evidence to support the Biblical tale. A nearby religious site called Lot’s Cave is said to be where the nephew of Abraham and his daughters lived after fleeing the destruction.

Scientists, meanwhile, point to the lake’s more mundane, geological origins, claiming the Dead Sea is the product of the same tectonic shifts that formed the Afro-Arabian Rift Valley millions of years ago.

Halfway through the 20th century, among the first big decisions made by the newly formed state of Israel was to divert large amounts of water by pipelines from the Jordan River to the southern Negev, in order to realize the dream of Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion to “make the desert bloom.”

If the Dead Sea is to be rescued from impending oblivion, it is clear that far more needs to be done to undo the damage to its natural freshwater. (AFP)

In 1964, Israel’s Mekorot National Water Company inaugurated its National Water Carrier project, which gave the Degania Dam — completed in the early 1930s — a new purpose: to regulate the water flow from the Sea of Galilee to the Jordan River.

One result was that the share of water reaching the neighboring Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan fell drastically, thereby depriving the Dead Sea of millions of cubic meters of freshwater per year from its primary source.

Another potential contributing factor at present is the Israeli company behind Ein Gedi Mineral Water. The Ein Gedi bottling plant has monopolized the use of freshwater from a spring that lies within the 1948 borders of the state of Israel and which long fed into the Dead Sea.

However, not all the blame for the lake’s decline rests with one country. According to Elias Salameh, a water science professor at the University of Jordan, every country in the region bears some responsibility.

“All of us are responsible at different levels for what has happened to the Dead Sea,” Salameh told Arab News. Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria have all sucked up water intended for the Dead Sea in order to satisfy their own needs.

FASTFACTS

• The Dead Sea receives almost all its water from the Jordan River.

• It is the lowest body of water on the surface of the planet.

• In the mid-20th century, it was 400 meters below sea level.

• By the mid-2010s, it had fallen to 430 meters below sea level.

In 1955, the Jordan Valley Unified Water Plan, brokered by US Ambassador Eric Johnston, allowed Israel to use 25 million cubic meters of Yarmouk River water per year, Syria 90 million and Jordan 375 million.

“But not all countries abided by the commitments made to the American, Johnston,” said Salameh. “It was never signed because Arab countries had not recognized Israel and refused to sign any agreement with Israel. Syria took the biggest portion, getting away with 260-280 million cubic meters annually.”

In the 1970s, Jordan and Syria began their own diversion of the Yarmouk River, the largest tributary of the Jordan River, again reducing its flow. Another agreement, in 1986, gave Jordan the right to 200 million cubic meters. But, in reality, Jordan took barely 20 million.

According to the UN, Jordan is the second most water-scarce country in the world. The 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars, which led to the mass exodus of Palestinians, more than doubled Jordan’s population, making its water needs even more acute.

As a result of these deals and diversions, the Dead Sea receded from roughly 398 meters below sea level in 1976 to around 430 meters below sea level in 2015. What is more worrying, perhaps, is the decline has been accelerating.

“Climate change has aggressively hit Jordan in the past two years,” said Motasem Saidan, University of Jordan professor. (Supplied)

During the first 20 years after 1976, the water level dropped by an average of six meters per decade. Over the next decade, from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, it fell by nine meters. In the decade up to 2015, it fell by 11 meters.

Some attribute this accelerating decline to man-made climate change. Climate scientists say global warming has already resulted in significant alterations to human and natural systems, one of which is increased rate of evaporation from water bodies.

At the same time, the waters of the Dead Sea are not being replenished fast enough.

Although the Dead Sea borders Jordan, Israel and Palestine, and despite the valiant efforts of such cross-border NGOs as Earth Peace, which includes activists from all three communities, no serious collective action has been taken to deal with the ecological disaster.

Cooperation is essential, however, to stave off the wider environmental consequences — most concerning of all being the rapid proliferation of sinkholes along the Dead Sea shoreline.

According to scientists, when freshwater diffuses beneath the surface of the newly exposed shoreline, it slowly dissolves the large underground salt deposits until the earth above collapses without warning.

Over a thousand sinkholes have appeared in the past 15 years alone, swallowing buildings, a portion of road, and date-palm plantations, mostly on the northwest coast. Environmental experts believe Israeli hotels along the shoreline are now in danger.

On the Jordanian side, too, the fate of luxury tourism resorts along the eastern shore of the Dead Sea face is in the balance.

Dead Sea is the product of the same tectonic shifts that formed the Afro-Arabian Rift Valley millions of years ago, scientists say. (AFP)

“The main highway, which is the artery to all the big Jordanian hotels, is in danger of collapsing if the situation is not rectified,” Salameh said.

Israel has developed a system that can predict where the next sinkhole will appear, based on imagery provided by a satellite operated by the Italian Space Agency, which passes over the Dead Sea every 16 days and produces a radar image of the area.

By comparing sets of images, even minimal changes in the topography can be identified before any major collapse.

Israeli officials have been searching for solutions to prevent a further decline in water levels and thereby stave off the spread of sinkholes. One suggestion is the construction of a Red Sea-Dead Sea canal.

A report compiled to assess the potential impact of transferring Red Sea water into the lower-lying Dead Sea found that a moderate flow could slow, but not halt, the retreat of the Dead Sea and reduce the number of new sinkholes per year.

Ironically, it found that too much Red Sea water could have the opposite effect. If the flow was significant enough to raise the level of the Dead Sea, the report predicted the sinkhole problem would be exacerbated.

Because the Red Sea is less salty than the Dead Sea, it would likely increase the dissolution of underground salt deposits and thereby speed up the appearance of sinkholes.

Although many solutions have been suggested to help address the Dead Sea’s decline, none has been implemented owing in large part to a lack of funding.

The Dead Sea receded from roughly 398 meters below sea level in 1976 to around 430 meters below sea level in 2015. What is more worrying, perhaps, is the decline has been accelerating. (AFP)

According to Salameh, the most logical solution proposed to date is the Med-Dead project, which would allow for a channel to run from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea.

Two of the sites proposed for this channel are Qatif, near the Gaza Strip, and Bisan, north of the Jordan River in Jordan. However, such a plan would first require Jordanian and Palestinian approvals.

Jordan has also suggested a similar project establishing a channel from the Red Sea, but Salameh does not consider this feasible.

“The distance is long, and it is not a viable project,” he said.


Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

Updated 05 December 2022

Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

  • ‘Apartheid’ fears grow after authorities ramp up settler road construction

RAMALLAH: A 22-year-old Palestinian man was killed by Israeli gunfire during a military raid in the occupied West Bank on Monday morning.

Omar Manna “Faraja” was killed in Bethlehem Dheisheh refugee camp after being hit by four bullets in the chest.

Another six people were injured, and four were arrested during the Israeli operation.

Troops stormed the refugee camp, sparking violent clashes with youths, official Palestinian sources said.

A comprehensive strike occurred in Bethlehem to mourn the murder of the Palestinian.

The killing took place as Israeli authorities started constructing settler-only roads in the West Bank.

Israel’s scheme aims to secure separate travel paths on shared roadways, reducing friction and violent clashes between Palestinians and settlers, Israeli armed forces and Palestinian sources told Arab News.

The Israeli plan includes the construction of streets near Nablus, Qalqilyia and between Bethlehem and Hebron, added the sources.

The process involves the seizure of thousands of acres of Palestinian land.

Israel had confiscated large swathes of Palestinian land for the construction of bypass roads since the signing of the Oslo agreement in late 1993, with the aim of dispersing Israeli settlers outside the Palestinian cities and towns across the West Bank.

Friction between Palestinian youths and Israeli defense forces over the protection of settler vehicles passing through shared roads across the West Bank has increased in recent months, leading to the deaths of several Palestinians by Israeli gunfire.

The significant increase in clashes includes stone-throwing as well as violent physical attacks by settlers on Palestinians.

Hiwara shared road is one of the most critical streets that the Israeli plan aims to replace with a bypass outside the town, Palestinian sources told Arab News.

Moein Al-Dumaidi, mayor of Hiwara, told Arab News that the street that Israeli authorities began paving in Hiwara is 6 km long.

Almost 1,100 dunums of village land was being seized for the work following a Israeli military decision.

“This is a method of confiscating the lands of Hiwara and appropriating it to serve the settlers,” Al-Dumaidi told Arab News.

However, the mayor hoped that the road would reduce tensions in the town.

Hiwara suffers from daily attacks by settlers and Israeli forces, leading to more than seven citizens being killed over the last three months, said the mayor.

The latest incident came on Dec. 3 when an Israeli soldier shot a child, Ammar Mufleh, leaving him to bleed to death over 20 minutes without providing treatment.

Al-Dumaidi said that killings had increased significantly since the election of Israel’s right-wing government.

Hiwara, with a population of 8,000, has 9,900 dunums, of which 7,500 are classified as Area C — under complete Israeli security and administrative control. Construction is prohibited within the Area C category, although 2,400 dunums classified as Area B can be used for building.

Mahmoud Barham, mayor of Beita, adjacent to Hawara, told Arab News that Israeli authorities had confiscated 400 dunums of Beita land containing olive trees to build a bypass road, which will be used exclusively by Israeli settlers.

“We demanded that the project to build this bypass road be stopped because it affects the entrance to our town,” Barham told Arab News.

Legal activist Amer Hamdan, who travels daily through the shared Hiwara street, told Arab News that separate lanes might reduce clashes between Palestinians, settlers and Israeli forces.

However, it could be classified as apartheid according to international law, Hamdan added.

Israel seeks to connect Israeli settlements from Hebron in the south of the West Bank to the Nablus area in the north through a network of streets for Israeli settlers.

“After settlers stop passing through streets shared with the Palestinians, no one will care about paving or maintaining existing roads,” Hamdan told Arab News.

“Even if a traffic accident occurs, the Palestinian police will not be able to reach the scene of the accident ... and the Israeli police will not be present, which will create a problem for the Palestinians who use these streets,” he added.

In 2019, Israel constructed a highway in eastern Jerusalem separated by a high concrete wall, dividing the road into two lanes — one for Palestinians and another for Israelis.

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities demolished homes in the village of Al-Araqib on Monday.

Local residents, predominantly Arab Bedouins, were threatened with displacement in the Negev region for the 210th time since the village’s first demolition in 2010.

Locals persist in rebuilding their tents — made from wood and a nylon cover — each time after demolition in order to be shielded from the intense summer heat and bitter cold of the winter.

Israeli authorities refuse to recognize the ownership of the land by the people of Al-Araqib, and have repeatedly demolished the village and razed crops.

Demolition orders continue in East Jerusalem after Israeli authorities destroyed a residential building in the Wad Qaddum neighbourhood in Silwan, south of Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The 17-year-old building included 10 apartments housing about 100 people.

Related