Red Sea in Peril: Urgent Threat as Oil Spills from Tanker

An abandoned oil tanker, the FSO Safer, is moored off the coast of Yemen in the Red Sea and is threatening to spill over a million barrels of crude oil, which is more than four times the amount spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster.The tanker has not been maintained since 2015 and is in a state of disrepair, making it a “time bomb” that could cause a catastrophic oil spill without global help. The United Nations has secured insurance coverage to start a ship-to-ship transfer of 1.1 million barrels of crude from the rusting tanker, which could cause a major environmental disaster. The first phase of the salvage operation would see oil being transferred from the Safer to the Nautica, a super tanker the U.N. purchased for the operation.

In the second phase, the U.N. will facilitate the installation of a replacement storage vessel, according to a deal the U.N. struck with the Houthi rebels, who control the area where the tanker is moored. The impact of an oil spill in the Red Sea from the FSO Safer could be far wider than anticipated, about 850,000 tonnes of oil could impact 115 Yemeni islands in the Red Sea, and it could also clog the Bab el Mandeb, a narrow strait that is a key shipping route for oil tankers. An oil spill would cause lasting environmental damage to the Red Sea, which is one of the world’s richest and most biodiverse marine ecosystems, and could impact hundreds of thousands of jobs in the fishing industry. A major spill would also devastate fishing communities on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, likely wiping out 200,000 livelihoods instantly.

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