Egypt urges action to avoid potential Safer oil tanker disaster in Red Sea

Amr Mohamed Kandil, Tuesday 22 Sep 2020

The Safer tanker, moored off the western coast of Yemen, has had almost no maintenance since 2015, and could pose a major threat to marine ecosystems if it explodes or leaks

Safer oil tanker
Safer oil tanker REUTERS

Egypt’s Environment Minister Yasmine Fouad on Tuesday stressed the need to find a solution to avoid a potential environmental catastrophe in the Red Sea should the neglected Safer oil tanker explode or leak its cargo.

The ship is moored in the Red Sea, north of the Yemeni city of Hodeidah, and is under the control of Iranian-backed Houthi militia in the country.

The tanker has had almost no maintenance since 2015 due to the war in the country, and there are fears of a possible leakage or explosion.

The United Nations says it has a cargo of more than 1.1 million barrels of light crude oil.

A leakage or explosion would cause serious harm to Red Sea ecosystems and to the 30 million people depending on them, the UN also said.

The tanker’s engine room is reportedly flooded with seawater, the UN said in August.

At a meeting of Arab states’ environment ministers held at the request of Saudi Arabia, which leads a coalition fighting the Houthi militias in Yemen, Fouad voiced Egypt’s support and solidarity with Yemen and Saudi Arabia, the ministry said in a statement.

She said Egypt would offer its experience and capabilities to contribute to finding a radical solution to the issue.

The minister also affirmed Egypt’s readiness to request technical support and experts from the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD), in a bid to save the Red Sea and its ecosystems from the potential catastrophe.

She referred to the Houthis’ refusal to allow international technical teams to carry out necessary maintenance on the 46-year-old tanker, despite the UN’s attempts to persuade them.

The Houthis in July agreed to give a UN team access to the abandoned ship, Reuters cited two sources as saying at the time.

However, later in the same month, Mohammed Ali Al Houthi, an official with the Houthi Ansarullah movement, said the Yemeni foreign ministry had informed the movement of alleged UN violations of an agreement with the Houthis on the decaying tanker.

A number of recommendations were issued during Tuesday’s meeting, the ministry said, including the necessity that Arab and African countries bordering the Red Sea activate their national plans to limit the potential negative effects in the event of any leak or blast.

The ministers also recommended the need to support efforts of the Regional Organization for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (PERSGA) in this regard, and the need to call on the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) to back and seek fund for PERSGA’s emergency plan to limit the probable negative effects.

The meeting also highlighted the necessity to urge relevant international organisations and authorities to provide support to the countries bordering the Red Sea to enhance their capabilities to face the potential disaster.

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