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Oil offloading unit FSO Safer: Defusing the ticking time bomb off the coast of Yemen – success looks likely

“Should the operation be successful, the FSO Safer can be a beacon of hope for Yemen.”

“Should the operation be successful, the FSO Safer can be a beacon of hope for Yemen.”, © Holm Akhdar

11.05.2022 - Article

An environmental disaster in the Red Sea has to be averted. At an international pledging conference more than 47 million euro have come together to prevent the 40-year-old oil offloading unit FSO Safer with more than a million barrels of oil on board off the coast of Yemen from breaking apart.

The floating oil storage and offloading unit FSO Safer has been anchored near the Yemeni port of Hodeidah since the 1980s 
The floating oil storage and offloading unit FSO Safer has been anchored near the Yemeni port of Hodeidah since the 1980s © Auswärtiges Amt

The floating oil storage and offloading unit FSO Safer has been anchored near the Yemeni port of Hodeidah since the 1980s. The giant barge-like vessel spanning almost 400 metres served for decades as a “floating petrol station”. Oil extracted in Yemen was pumped on to the FSO Safer using pipelines and from there offloaded on to smaller tankers for shipping. During the war in 2015, the FSO Safer was occupied by Houthi rebels. The ship has not been serviced since this time and no expert has set foot on it. The pipes and hull are rusting, highly explosive gases can no longer be extracted, the platform is surrounded by mines. Now the oil threatens to spill out – which would result in environmental and health problems for 10 million people. This would also have disastrous consequences for the humanitarian situation in Yemen as most of the food aid for the people in need in Yemen arrives via Hodeidah Port.

“Should the operation be successful, the FSO Safer can be a beacon of hope for Yemen.”

Today, a hybrid pledging conference chaired by the Netherlands and the United Nations in The Hague and Amman agreed to make available at least 47 million euro to avert this imminent crisis. This is an important first step. Germany is contributing just under10 million euro to the rescue effort and has long supported previous negotiations. When full financing has been secured for the complex rescue mission and if all conflicting parties continue to comply with the agreement reached on how to deal with the FSO Safer, the acute danger of an oil spill in the Red Sea with disastrous ecological and humanitarian consequences can be averted.

State Secretary and Special Envoy for International Climate Action Jennifer Lee Morgan: 

An obsolete rusting oil platform has become a ticking time bomb in the war in Yemen. It could increase the suffering of millions of people, destroy the Red Sea’s unique ecosystem, make fishing impossible for months or years and significantly disrupt international shipping. For the last two years, Germany has been supporting the United Nations in its search for a solution to this global problem. With the support of donor countries, the United Nations has now brought about a breakthrough. Thanks to a solution that emerged from political negotiations in which the Yemeni conflicting parties played a defining role, the necessary trust has been built up. Should the operation be successful, the FSO Safer can be a beacon of hope for Yemen. Our support to avert an environmental crisis and prevent an exacerbated food crisis also plays an important part in efforts to promote peace and stabilise the region.

The giant barge-like vessel spanning almost 400 metres served for decades as a “floating petrol station”. 
The giant barge-like vessel spanning almost 400 metres served for decades as a “floating petrol station”. © Holm Akhdar

Solution is also an important success of negotiations

The Peace Support Facility co-initiated and largely financed by Germany and administered by the United Nations is responsible for the administrative implementation of the rescue mission. The first step to solve the problem is a technical one: work to pump the crude oil on to a safe replacement tanker needs to be started in early summer. This process which the donated funds will be used for will take approximately four months and has to be completed before the autumn storms begin in October.

It is only due to the success of long and arduous negotiations that work can now be done to bring about a solution. The Houthis and the Yemeni Government agreed in March 2022 that the obsolete oil platform be replaced once the immediate danger has been averted. The completion of this second step of the agreement is an integral part of the current planned technical solution. The United Nations and the Yemeni parties have committed to carry through this second phase. Today, the first step has been taken, yet further support will be crucial in the coming months.

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