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The threat to the Red Sea

Since the beginning of the war, the Tanker “Safer” has been lying off the coast of Yemen. Actually, the ship should have been scrapped two decades ago. However, the 45 – year-old Tanker is still in operation-even though it was practically abandoned years ago and is no longer serviced.

The ship’s Tanks are filled with about 1.14 million barrels of oil. Only recently water entered the engine room, the Tanker threatened to sink. Before that, a piece of equipment had rusted away and just missed a Pipeline. The “Safer” is falling apart.

If the oil flows into the Red Sea, the Planet is confronted with one of the most serious environmental catastrophes of all time. This is reported, among other things, by “Le Temps”.

UN Security Council is unable to act

In 2015, the war in Yemen began, which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people and devastated the country. Since then, the Tanker “Safer”, which is located in front of the port of the Ras Isa oil terminal and thus north of the Hodeida city controlled by Huthi militias, has not been serviced. Therefore, the ship is rusting, the corrosion is considerable due to the salt and heat.

The danger has been known for years, on the international level there have been more and more calls during the last two years to keep the Tanker seaworthy, not to let it sink and to dispose of the oil. In the meantime, the threat to nature has become so great that the UN Security Council is also dealing with the issue. “We have been unable to act for years, “Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told Le Temps. The UN has put together a technical team of experts who are prepared to assess the damage to the Tanker on site and possibly carry out the first emergency repairs.

According to Laerke, the Houthi militias had agreed to the Mission. Apart from that, there was no protection for the technicians, the Mission was risky. For example, there are persistent rumors about explosive charges that are supposed to be placed around the ship and perhaps even on board.

Poker on the back of the environment

However, the Houthi militias have already assured the UN in the past of access to the ailing Tanker before withdrawing their consent without explanation. In addition to the unstable situation in Yemen, the price of oil also plays a role in the poker for the “Safer”: at the beginning of the war, the oil stored on the ship was worth about 80 million dollars. Since then, the price of oil has collapsed and the oil, which comes from the 430 km distant Marib oil fields and is of poor quality, has lost a large part of its value.

The price collapse is so drastic that the revenues from the stored oil may not even be enough to pay for the necessary work to empty the ship – thus averting the danger of the impending oil spill.

But the Safer Poker has another Dimension: the Houthi militias are fighting against an international coalition led by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United States. The militias fight for international recognition and use the Tanker and its environmental threats as leverage in negotiations.

The area controlled by the Houthi militias has been subject to an Embargo, which is also being felt by the civilian population. While hundreds of cars line up at every gas station in the capital Sanaa, the Houthi militias do not want to give in. “The Americans and their allies care more about the life of the Shrimps than about the life of the Yemenis,” Le Temps quotes the response of a leader of the Rebellion, who was asked about the possible oil disaster. An answer that also makes it clear that the Tanker has long since become a plaything in the struggle for power in Yemen.

Disasters are approaching

Nevertheless, it seems clear to some participants what the impending oil spill in Yemen could do. Because the “Safer” has loaded more oil than, for example, the “Exxon Valdez”, which caused an oil spill off the coast of Alaska in 1989 – which is still considered one of the biggest environmental disasters in seafaring.

In addition to the hundreds of thousands of birds and fish, an oil spill in the already bleeding Yemen would probably not only be an environmental disaster, it would probably also trigger a humanitarian disaster. In Yemen, more than 100,000 families live from fishing. Then an oil spill would also threaten the water desalination plants, which are often the only way for the population to get drinking water. And since the country imports practically all of its Goods, it is dependent on passable coastal waters, which would no longer be guaranteed in the event of an oil Spill.

Lise Grande, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, told AFP: “there will be an environmental disaster like no other, and it will be a humanitarian disaster because the oil will make the port of Hodeida unusable.”

Last coral reefs threatened

While corals are dying all over the world as a result of global warming, scientists have made a discovery: the corals in the Red Sea are the only ones in the world that are able to partially adapt to the new climatic conditions – especially in the north of the more than 1800 km long sea.

Anders Meibom, professor at EPFL and founder of the transnational research centre for the Red Sea, which is also financially supported by the federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), tells Le Temps: “unlike the coral reefs in Australia or the Caribbean, they can still survive a temperature rise of two or three degrees. But only if they are protected from severe local pollution.”

Call for help to UN Security Council

In the meantime, in addition to the internationally recognized Yemeni government, countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan have recognized the dramatic consequences of an oil spill off the coast of Yemen. They asked the UN Security Council to take urgent measures.

However, because the dilapidated tanker “Safer” has long since become the political plaything of the most diverse interest groups and the fronts remain hardened, no quick solution is in sight. Only corrosion, which eats up the ailing Tanker, progresses rapidly.