The United Nations launched a social media campaign on Monday to seek funds for a salvage operation to prevent a possibly catastrophic oil spill in the Red Sea caused by the deteriorating tanker FSO Safer.

The freighter, which holds 48 million gallons of oil, has been stranded off Yemen’s west coast since the country’s civil war began seven years ago. During that period, it has had little or no maintenance, and its condition has deteriorated, increasing fears of a calamity that might result in the world’s fifth-largest oil spill from a tanker.


The United Nations is requesting $144 million in donations to help fund the process to make it safe, with $80 million going toward transferring the oil to another ship.


“We now have three-quarters of the $80 million required to launch the emergency phase of the operation, after Saudi Arabia’s $10 million pledge on June 12 and the US confirmation that it is working toward a $10 million donation,” said UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.


In a statement uploaded via his Twitter account, David Gressly, the UN’s resident and humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, announced the fundraiser. He stated that the goal is to raise $5 million by June 30 in order to begin building on the vessel in July.


The Safer, a floating storage and offloading terminal, is moored near Yemen’s Hodeidah port. The rusting vessel’s hull, equipment, and systems have deteriorated to the point where there are growing fears that it will leak, catch fire, or even explode, causing an environmental disaster four times worse than the Exxon Valdez spill off the coast of Alaska in 1989, which is still regarded as the worst in terms of environmental damage.


The UN has been urging the Houthis to let a team of experts to board the ship, inspect its condition, and undertake emergency repairs since 2019, stressing that a leak would destroy many Yemenis’ livelihoods, harm marine life, and disrupt relief supplies. It might also affect commercial shipping in the Red Sea, which is one of the busiest rivers in the world and accounts for 10% of global trade.


Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, and Eritrea are among the countries near the coast that could be affected. The Houthis agreed to provide access to the ship in November of last year.


“We know what the repercussions are, we know the danger that exists, and we have encouraged others to contribute to the funding of this effort,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the permanent US ambassador to the UN, said earlier this month.

“But let’s be clear: the problem with the Safer is the Houthis, who have refused to let even the UN or anyone check the ship.”


“We can collect all the money in the world and if they don’t grant access, we’re still in the same situation where we started,” she remarked, implying that the militia has ultimate responsibility. As a result, getting this done will require a two-pronged approach.”


When asked by Arab News if he believes the Houthis will honor their promise to allow UN specialists to board the ship, Dujarric replied, “We take things one day at a time in Yemen, like we do everywhere else in the world.”


“However, it is our understanding that we will have access to the ship, which is important for us to avoid what we fear will be an ecological calamity.”


Meanwhile, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg said he expects the Houthis to respond quickly to a proposal for the phased restoration of important routes in Taiz and other governorates.


“The UN proposal takes into account numerous concerns stated by both sides during conversations that began last month in Amman, Jordan,” Dujarric added.


Since 2015, when the Houthis closed important roads and encircled the city center, effectively sealing it off from the rest of the country, Taiz governorate has been under siege. Despite a recent extension of a truce between militia and government forces, the siege persists.


“Like all aspects of the truce, the opening of roads is a step to alleviate Yemenis’ suffering, as well as to restore some feeling of normalcy and allow Yemeni civilians to move freely,” said Grundberg.


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