UN announces ‘major breakthrough’ to prevent oil spill disaster in Yemen

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The United Nations said Thursday it had bought a ship to remove oil and avoid a potentially catastrophic spill from a tanker decaying for years off the coast of war-ravaged Yemen.

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The UN Development Program said it had signed a contract to purchase a crude carrier from major tanker company Euronav that will head to Yemen to remove the oil from the beleaguered FSO Safer.

The decaying 47-year-old ship has not been serviced since Yemen’s devastating civil war broke out in 2015 and was left abandoned off the rebel-held port of Hodeida, a critical gateway for shipments into the country heavily dependent on emergency foreign aid.

UNDP chief Achim Steiner called the deal a “major breakthrough.”

The effort will “avoid the risk of an environmental and humanitarian disaster on a massive scale,” he told reporters at the UN headquarters.

Steiner said the vessel would sail within the next month after routine maintenance.

“We hope if all things go according to plan, that the operation of the ship-to-ship transfer would actually commence in early May,” he said.

UN officials have voiced fears that the ship would crumble, unleashing an oil spill that would severely impair foreign shipments and cost some $20 billion to clean up.

The Safer contains 1.1 million barrels of oil -- four times as much as that spilled in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, one of the world's worst ecological catastrophes, according to the UN.

An ecological disaster could also clog the Bab al-Mandab strait between Africa and the Arabian peninsula, taking a major toll on the global economy by holding up the Suez Canal.

The salvage operation is estimated to cost $129 million of which $75 million has been received and another $20 million has been pledged, according to the United Nations.

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