AL-MUKALLA: The UN thanked Saudi Arabia on Sunday for donating $10 million to efforts to maintain the decaying Safer oil tanker in Yemen, as the country’s officials and analysts called for more aggressive pressure on the Iran-backed Houthis to facilitate the arrival of UN teams to the vessel.
The UN plan aims to defuse a potential major environmental catastrophe in the Red Sea if the tanker explodes or leaks. Russell Geekie, communication officer for David Gressly, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, told Arab News that the Saudi donation reduces the funding gap, but that further funds are needed from donors to help the UN implement its plan.
“We thank all donors that have pledged or contributed and very much welcome the announcements by the Kingdom today and the US last week. This reduces the funding gap, but a gap remains. We still urgently need funds to start the emergency operation before it is too late,” Geekie said.
Carrying more than 1.1 million barrels of oil, the 45-year-old Safer oil tanker has been left abandoned off Yemen’s western province of Hodeidah since 2015, when international engineers fled the country after the Houthis seized control of Hodeidah during their military expansion across the country.
Confirmed reports of rust damaging parts of the tanker have sparked local and international warnings of a potential major ecological disaster in the Red Sea.
Last week, Greenpeace sent an appeal to the Arab League to join international efforts to raise funds to maintain the tanker and prevent a disaster in the Red Sea that could impact war-torn Yemen and neighboring countries.
“We trust that the (Arab League) is capable of playing this role and expediting the solution. If disaster strikes, its harsh consequences will affect us all, along with millions of people living in the region who will see their livelihoods, nutrition, health and environment deteriorate,” Ghiwa Nakat, executive director at Greenpeace for the Middle East and North Africa, said on Twitter.
The Yemeni government has repeatedly accused the Houthis of using the rusting tanker as a bargaining chip to extract concessions from the international community, the Arab coalition and their opponents in Yemen.
The Houthis previously refused to allow international experts to board the ship to assess damage, and demanded that they receive profits from sale of the tanker’s cargo, as well as a replacement tanker.
Nabil bin Aifan, maritime safety researcher from Yemen’s Mukalla and a Ph.D. candidate at the Arab Academy for Science Technology and Maritime Transport in Egypt, told Arab News that activities on the ground to rescue the tanker were lacking despite the predicted devastating environmental impact of a leak or explosion.
“Despite that the disaster is imminent and the international community is aware of that, simplest emergency safety measures have not been applied to the ship,” bin Aifan said. “This shows that the international community is weak. It should have mounted more pressure for maintaining the ship a long time ago.”