The Journal Gazette
Sunday, June 28, 2020 1:00 am

Yemeni rebels defiant as oil tanker risk grows

Associated Press

The United Nations said an abandoned oil tanker moored off the coast of Yemen loaded with more than 1 million barrels of crude oil is at risk of rupture or exploding, causing massive environmental damage to Red Sea marine life, desalination factories and international shipping routes.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show seawater has entered the engine compartment of the tanker, which hasn't been maintained for five years, damaging pipelines and increasing risk of sinking. Rust has covered parts of the tanker, and the inert gas that prevents the tanks from gathering inflammable gases has leaked out.

Experts say repairs are no longer possible because the damage to the ship is irreversible.

For years, the U.N. has been trying to send inspectors to assess damage aboard the vessel known as the FSO Safer and look for ways to secure it . The U.N. has warned that delays could lead to an environmental disaster four times greater than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

But a European diplomat, a Yemeni government official and the tanker's company owner said that Houthi rebels have resisted. The diplomat said the rebels are treating the vessel as a “deterrent like having a nuclear weapon.” All three spoke on condition of anonymity .

“They do say that openly to the U.N.: 'We like to have this as something to hold against the international community if attacked,'?” the diplomat said. “Houthis are definitely responsible for failure of the U.N. to look at the ship.”

Ian Ralby, founder of I.R. Consilium, who specializes in maritime and resource security, told the AP the U.N.'s efforts to send a team to assess the ship are “futile.” What the vessel needs is a salvage team, he said.

Houthi rebels control the western Red Sea ports, including Ras Issa, 4 miles from where the FSO Safer has been moored since 1980s. They are at war with Yemen's government in exile, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition and the United States.

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