The United Nations agrees to buy a stranded Yemeni tanker carrying 1 million barrels of crude oil

The United Nations announced on Thursday it had signed an agreement to purchase a very large vessel capable of transferring more than 1 million barrels of crude oil now stranded in a rusting tanker off the coast of war-torn Yemen.

The agreement is the first step in an eventual operation to evacuate the cargo and eliminate the threat of significant environmental damage from a possible oil spill or explosion.

Achim Steiner, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, told a news conference that the deal has been signed with Euronav, the world’s largest independent tanker company, to secure the purchase of a major crude carrier for the enterprise.


The double-hulled aircraft carrier, found “following an intense search in an extremely stressed global market,” is expected to sail within the next month to Yemen’s Red Sea waters and park alongside FSO Safer, it said.

“If all goes according to plan,” the ship-to-ship crude transfer will begin in early May,” Steiner said.

The Japanese-made Safer was built in the 1970s and sold to the Yemeni government in the 1980s to store up to 3 million barrels of oil pumped from fields in Marib, a province in eastern Yemen. The impoverished country on the Arabian Peninsula has been engulfed in civil war for years.

Yemen’s conflict began in 2014 when Iranian-backed Houthi rebels seized the capital, Sanaa, and large parts of the country’s north, forcing the government to flee south to Saudi Arabia. The following year, a Saudi-led coalition went to war to fight the Houthis and try to restore the internationally recognized government to power.

Achim Steiner has announced the collaboration of the United Nations and Euronav for the purchase of an oil tanker stranded off the Yemeni coast.

Achim Steiner has announced the collaboration of the United Nations and Euronav for the purchase of an oil tanker stranded off the Yemeni coast. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

No annual maintenance has been performed since 2015 on the vessel, which is 1,181 feet long with 34 storage tanks. Most of the crew, with the exception of 10 people, were pulled off the vessel after the Saudis entered the conflict.

In 2020, internal documents obtained by The Associated Press showed seawater entered Safer’s engine compartment, causing damage to piping and increasing the risk of sinking. Rust has coated parts of the tanker and the inert gas has escaped which prevents the tanks from picking up flammable gases.

Experts said maintenance was no longer possible because the damage to the vessel is irreversible, according to an AP report.

The situation has raised fears of a massive oil spill or explosion that could cause an environmental catastrophe. The United Nations has repeatedly warned that the tanker could release four times as much oil as the infamous Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska in 1989.


As of March 7, the United Nations has collected $95 million of the $129 million needed for the emergency phase of the transfer of crude oil from the Safer. Only $75 million has been received so far.

Steiner said the “painful” cost of the large 50-year-old crude carrier, which is 1,089 feet long, was $55 million. He said the United Nations had been searching for weeks and solicited a donation.

“But the market is clearly so hot that we ultimately had to conclude that the only way forward, rather than waiting for someone’s largesse, was to make the decision not just to charter a vessel, but to buy one as well,” he said. he said she.


David Gressly, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said it hoped the oil would be removed from the Safer within the next three to four months, “but we still urgently need funding to implement the plan and avert disaster.” .


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