Houthis blocking maintenance of deserted FSO Safer tanker in Red Sea: Saudi embassy

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The Iran-backed Houthi militia are currently blocking the critical maintenance of an aging oil tanker of the Red Sea coast, according to Saudi Arabia’s embassy in the United States, warning of a potential major oil spill on Yemeni islands if no action is taken.

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“The Iranian backed Houthis in Yemen are blocking the critical maintenance of an aging oil tanker in the Red Sea. An oil spill could potentially have devastating consequences on Yemeni islands, the Red Sea coral reef, and the income of Yemeni fishermen,” the Saudi Arabian Embassy to the US tweeted late on Monday accompanied with a video.

The oil tanker in question is the FSO Safer, an abandoned and decaying floating oil storage tanker near the coast of Yemen near the Hodeidah province.

The 1976-built FSO Safer, described as a “floating bomb” by the Atlantic Council last April, was left deserted after it was captured by the Iran-backed Houthi militia in March 2015. It is said the tanker is still holding nearly three million barrels of oil.

“Crude oil is inert and, when tended properly, a storage facility holding crude oil poses no inherent risk of fire or explosion. The concern, however, is the air space in a storage tank. If crude oil sits, even in floating facilities where the water helps regulate the temperature, the surface of the oil exposed to the air oxidizes over time,” wrote Ian Ralby, a senior fellow with the Atlantic and an expert on energy and environment.

The result, Ralby warned, was is both heat and a flammable compound “the sort that makes oil-soaked rags spontaneously combust in a place with poor ventilation.”

Over the past several years, the Houthi militia have blocked UN officials’ plans to inspect the ship in order to assess the scale of the damage.

Michael Aron, the British Ambassador in Yemen, warned earlier this month the FSO Safer would spell catastrophic damage to the Red Sea if left unchecked.

“The leaking of 20,000 tons of fuel has caused enormous environmental damage in Siberia - Russia. The Safer tanker in Yemen contains approximately 150,000 tons of crude oil that will destroy the Red Sea and its coast if it leaks. The Houthis should allow the United Nations to address the situation before it is too late,” Aron warned.


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