UN crowdfunds to prevent an oil spill from the FSO Safer tanker off Yemen

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The United Nations has turned to group funding to raise the $ 80 million needed to remove more than a million barrels of oil from a decaying tanker in the Red Sea and prevent a potential environmental catastrophe.

The FSO Safer has been rusting off the coast of Yemen since 2015. Located in the delicate ecosystem of the Red Sea, known for its corals and fish, it threatens to release approximately four times the amount of crude oil spilled near Alaska in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.

Seawater has already entered the engine room, According to UN officials who warn that a tank has exploded or the explosion would wreak havoc on marine life, vital shipping lanes and regional economies.

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For years, the United Nations has been working to launch a rescue mission to transfer oil and move the ship to a safer place for inspection or dismantling. But the ship is anchored in the waters northwest of the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah, near territory held by Iranian Hussein rebels. The war between them and the now-backed Saudi government ended support and prevented any unloading.

Controversial parties have finally agreed on a disaster prevention plan, the UN said, but now there is no money to implement it.

“The tanker cannot be repaired and the fear is that it may soon disintegrate or explode”, the global organization said this week by launching an online crowdfunding campaign.

The UN statement said it had raised about three-quarters of the money needed to transfer oil to another ship, after Saudi Arabia and the United States recently pledged $ 10 million each, following promises from the Netherlands, France, Qatar and others. which brought the total amount. in the hands of the UN up to $ 60 million.

To help pay the remaining $ 20 million, UN coordinator in Yemen David Gresley is urging people online to raise $ 5 million by the end of the month so that work can begin in July.

At a briefing on mondayGresley seems to acknowledge that the $ 5 million call from the public is unusual, describing it as an “ambitious goal”, but says it is a disaster. Increasing currents and winds in the winter will increase the risk of the ship crashing and spilling oil into the Red Sea.

“Every day that passes is another day in which we take a risk, a chance for this ship to fall apart and the catastrophe I described to develop,” he said.

The whole plan, including unloading the oil first and changing it later The 1,230-foot ship – one of the world’s largest tankers – will cost $ 144 million, according to UN estimates.

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The disaster in the Red Sea will contribute to the plight of Yemenis, who have endured nearly eight years of war, famine and disease, and will threaten the livelihoods of many who rely on marine resources. Gresley said it could take up to 25 years to restore fish stocks.

UN officials and conservationists say the Safer oil spill will destroy Red Sea ecosystems, an important area of ​​biodiversity, and take decades and at least $ 20 billion to clean up.

“An expected oil spill at the site will abruptly cut off critical aid supplies, closing nearby ports, halting major food, fuel and medicine shipments,” said Richard Carter, director of the Coastal Coordination Program. at The Ocean Foundation in Washington. , DC

He said it makes sense to seek external funding in the case of an “orphaned” ship, where ownership and responsibility may be unclear, after Washington called on private companies using the Red Sea for trade to also help fund the project. of the United Nations.

US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Landerking, told reporters that the Hutus had agreed with UN officials to unload the oil, while talks on what was happening with the oil and how to tow the ship would take place later.

According to a memorandum of understanding signed in March, a short-term solution will move oil from Safer to another ship. But the agreement depends on the mobilization of donor funds.

The Hutus – who were accused of suspending the emergency operation in the past, it has repeatedly called on the UN to present the operational plan provided for in the memorandum, accusing it of “delaying practical and technical steps to start maintaining a safer reservoir”.

Calling Safer a “time bomb”, Landerking said he could just take a cigarette butt, launch a weapon, [or] rough wave “to cause a spill, and he said the supertanker also risked exploding.

A study commissioned by the UN in recent years found that a spill or explosion can raise fuel and food prices, cause crop losses and pollute thousands of water wells. This will kill marine mammals, sea turtles and seabirds, destroy pristine coral reefs and cut hundreds of thousands of jobs in the fishing industry.

If the ship sinks, explodes or spills its cargo, the consequences will be catastrophic, Carter said.

“Millions of people will be exposed to highly polluted air, desperately dependent citizens will be deprived of the supplies they need to survive, and the marine environment in a large region will unnecessarily become a tragic victim of the war,” he said.

Ali Al-Mujahed in Sana’a, Yemen contributed to this report.

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