The United Nations on Thursday fell far short of raising the money it needs for an operation to salvage 1.1 million barrels of oil from a decaying vessel moored off Yemen’s coast and avert an environmental disaster.
UN officials have been warning for years that the Red Sea and Yemen’s coastline was at risk as the Safer tanker could spill four times as much oil as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska.
The war in Yemen suspended maintenance operations on the Safer in 2015. The UN has warned its structural integrity has significantly deteriorated and it is at risk of exploding.
Deputy UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said the UN was confident a salvage operation could begin by the end of May.
“We have available internal financial mechanisms if there are still gaps. That would, of course, need to be replenished by donors,” Haq said.
The United Nations has said the clean-up of a spill could cost $20 billion, but yet it is struggling to raise the $129 million needed to remove the oil from the Safer and transfer it to a tanker, the Nautica, the UN bought for $55 million.
Around $99 million has been raised from governments, private donors and crowdfunding. A UN event co-hosted by Britain and the Netherlands on Thursday hoped to raise the remaining $29 million needed for the emergency phase, but Haq said only $5.6 million was pledged.
An additional $19 million was required for a critical second phase, Haq said. The Nautica was procured by the UN in March and set sail from China in early April.
The salvage operation cannot be paid for by the sale of the oil because it is not clear who owns it, the UN has said.
Hayel Saeed Anam Group, Yemen’s largest private company, called upon the international private sector – particularly the oil sector – to act now to ensure this devastating crisis is averted.
“HSA Group remains gravely concerned by the potential devasting impact of an oil spill from FSO Safer,” the company said in a statement.
HSA Group was the first company to contribute to the UN’s campaign, donating $1.2 million in August 2022.
“The global business community has a stake in ensuring that this devastating crisis is averted – particularly the oil sector. The potential disruption to trade routes and supply chains would be extensive, inflicting long-term operational and economic challenges for companies across the world. The international private sector must urgently step forward and contribute to the recovery effort,” the statement added.