Funding is slowly building up to prevent a disastrous Red Sea oil spill in Yemen

Efforts to prevent a devastating oil spill in the Red Sea are moving slowly, with tens of millions of dollars raised in recent weeks to secure the rusting hulk of the SFO safer – a tanker off the Yemeni coast which contains some 1.1 million barrels of oil.

The most recent donor is Saudi Arabia, which said on June 12 that it would donate $10 million through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief).

That brings the total raised in recent weeks to at least $43 million. At a donation ceremony in The Hague on May 11, some $33 million was raised, including $8 million from the Netherlands and $2 million from Qatar. The rest came from the European Union and eight European governments.

However, this remains well below the $144 million the United Nations says is needed to secure the ship and unload its cargo, four times the amount of oil spilled during the Exxon-Valdez disaster in 1989.

Of the UN target, $80 million is needed to fund an emergency operation to offload oil from the Safer to another ship. Funds are also needed to dismantle Safer.

The Dutch government has said that apart from funding, the operation also depends on the Houthi rebel group’s willingness to allow access.

The ship is anchored in the southwest of the Ras Isa peninsula, near the main Yemeni port of Hodeidah on the Red Sea, in an area controlled by the Houthis, who have been locked in a war with Saudi Arabia and its allies for 2015.

The state of the Safer has been a concern for years. There has been no inspection or proper maintenance work since 2015. Parts of the ship have already been flooded and it is believed to be in an increasingly delicate condition. However, efforts to secure the ship and its cargo have repeatedly failed, due to a lack of safe access.

If the ship broke up – and stronger winds and more volatile currents from October would make that more likely – then a leak of its cargo would devastate important fisheries across a wide area and marine life in general. The livelihoods of some 126,000 Yemeni fishermen would be threatened, while some 30 million people would be affected in one way or another.

The cost of cleaning up a spill has been estimated by the Dutch government at around $20 billion. The International Maritime Organization has developed a contingency plan should the worst happen.

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Post expires at 6:08pm on Thursday June 23rd, 2022