GENEVA (12 November 2020) – Independent technical experts must be granted immediate access to an abandoned, rusting oil tanker that threatens Yemen and the Red Sea with ecological catastrophe, UN human rights experts said today.
“It is vital that a UN technical team be permitted to board the FSO Safer if we are to have any hope of preventing the threat of a spill that could be four times worse than the historic Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989,” said Marcos Orellana, UN special rapporteur on toxics and human rights.
The single-hull super tanker, launched in 1976, lies off Yemen’s key port ofHudaydah, now controlled by the Houthis, and is rapidly decaying after being abandoned five years ago when its engine room flooded with seawater. Since the late 1980s, it had been used as a storage vessel and now holds some 1.1 million barrels of oil, four times the spill from the Exxon Valdez.
“If this ship were to break up, a spill could decimate livelihoods of local coastal communities, biodiversity in the region, and heavily impact shipping routes in the Red Sea,” said Orellana. “A UN technical team should be given all necessary means to assess the dilapidated tanker and conclusively avert the threat of a spill from the dilapidated tanker.”
“An oil spill would harm the rights to life, health and a healthy environment for some 1.6 million Yemenis,” said David Boyd, special rapporteur for human rights and environment. “The catastrophic risks of an oil spill from the FSO Safer add to the urgency of rapidly shifting away from fossil fuels and towards renewables,” he added.
“Has the world learned nothing from the devastating explosion at the port of Beirut in Lebanon in August?” asked Orellana. “Surely the dangers of mishandling hazardous substances are now evident.”
In March 2018, the Government of Yemen and de facto (Houthi) authorities formally requested UN assistance with the Safer tanker, but more than two years on, the team has not been deployed because the necessary approvals have not yet been granted.”
“This is a tragedy in the making and it must be prevented at all costs from hitting the people of Yemen,” the experts said. “They have suffered enough.”