New Yemen anger over ‘time bomb’ oil vessel

The FSO Safer being held hostage by Houthi Militia off Hodeidah in Yemen. (File photo)
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Updated 05 October 2020

New Yemen anger over ‘time bomb’ oil vessel

  • Houthis again reject UN request to inspect stricken tanker in Red Sea

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: There was renewed anger in Yemen on Sunday after Houthi leaders again refused to allow UN inspectors to board a rusting oil storage vessel moored off the port city of Hodeidah.

Yemeni authorities accused the Houthis of risking an environmental catastrophe in the Red Sea, and called for a tougher UN line against the Iran-backed militias.

“The international community’s lenient approach should stop,” Salem Al-Khanbashi, Yemen’s deputy prime minister, told Arab News on Sunday. 

“The Houthis behave arrogantly because of this approach. The international community should pressure the Houthis to either empty the ship or subject it to immediate maintenance.”

The FSO Safer has been moored 7 km off the coast of Yemen since 1988. It fell into Houthi hands in March 2015, when they took control of the coast around Hodeidah. The vessel has been described as “a ticking time bomb” amid fears that the 1.4 million barrels of oil it contains will start to seep out.

The Houthis briefly bowed to pressure in July and agreed to allow a team of UN engineers to visit the ship, before changing their minds and restating previous demands for the revenue from the oil. 

They have also demanded that the vessel be inspected by engineers from “neutral” countries such as Germany, Sweden, Russia or China, claiming that UN experts would issue a politically motivated report written in advance. 

Al-Khanbashi said his government would agree to authorize the UN to collect and hold revenues from Safer oil sales as a middle ground until any financial dispute was resolved.

He spoke after officials from the UN Yemen envoy’s office and the UN Office for Project Services held a “virtual” meeting with the Houthis to discuss access to the vessel.

The Houthis had been expected to finally agree, but instead they again rejected the request, and claimed that the UN had failed to consider their demands.

Yemeni government officials have long accused the Houthis of using the tanker as leverage to ease economic pressure and extract concessions from the Yemeni government, the Arab coalition and the international community. 

Saudi Arabia alerted the UN Security Council last month about an oil spot in the Red Sea west of the tanker, fueling fears of an impending disaster.  

Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, said in August that the UN was working on preventing a major catastrophe, and called for experts to visit the vessel immediately.


Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia

Updated 23 January 2021

Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia

  • Saturday’s protests come as the North African nation struggles to stem the novel coronavirus pandemic
  • The government on Saturday extended a night-time curfew from 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) to 5 a.m. and banned gatherings until February 14

TUNIS: Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Tunisian cities on Saturday to protest police repression, corruption and poverty, following several nights of unrest marked by clashes and arrests.
Saturday’s protests come as the North African nation struggles to stem the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has crippled the economy and threatened to overwhelm hospitals.
Over 6,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Tunisia, with a record 103 deaths reported on Thursday.
The government on Saturday extended a night-time curfew from 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) to 5 a.m. and banned gatherings until February 14.
But protesters took to the streets in several parts of the country, including the capital Tunis and the marginalized interior region of Gafsa, to demand the release of hundreds of young people detained during several nights of unrest since January 14.
“Neither police nor Islamists, the people want revolution,” chanted demonstrators in a crowd of several hundred in Tunis, where one person was wounded in brief clashes amid a heavy police presence.
Protests were also held in the coastal city of Sfax on Friday.
Much of the unrest has been in working class neighborhoods, where anger is boiling over soaring unemployment and a political class accused of having failed to deliver good governance, a decade after the 2011 revolution that toppled long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Economic misery exacerbated by novel coronavirus restrictions in the tourism-reliant nation have pushed growing numbers of Tunisians to try to leave the country.
“The situation is catastrophic,” said Omar Jawadi, 33, a hotel sales manager, who has been paid only half his salary for months.
“The politicians are corrupt, we want to change the government and the system.”
The police have said more than 700 people were arrested over several nights of unrest earlier this week that saw young people hurl rocks and petrol bombs at security forces, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.
Human rights groups on Thursday said at least 1,000 people had been detained.
“Youth live from day to day, we no longer have hope, neither to work nor to study — and they call us troublemakers!” said call center worker Amine, who has a degree in aerospace engineering.
“We must listen to young people, not send police in by the thousands. The whole system is corrupt, a few families and their supporters control Tunisia’s wealth.”
Tunisia last week marked one decade since Ben Ali fled the country amid mass protests, ending 23 years in power.
Tunisia’s political leadership is divided, with Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi waiting for parliament to confirm a major cabinet reshuffle announced last Saturday.