FSO Safer: Red Sea’s ‘Ticking Time Bomb’ Diffused
The United Nations on Friday announced the successful removal of more than 1 million barrels of oil from the decaying FSO Safer tanker off Yemen, averting a worst case scenario oil spill that would have devastated coastal communities and created a crisis in vital Red Sea shipping lanes.
The ship-to-ship transfer of oil to a replacement vessel was concluded at 1800 local time on Friday by a team from SMIT, a subsidiary of Boskalis. As much of the 1.14 million barrels of oil on board has been extracted as possible, but less than 2 percent of the original cargo remains mixed in with sediment that will be removed during the final cleaning of the vessel.
The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, David Gressly, who has led UN system-wide efforts on the Safer since September 2021, said today marks a great milestone.
“A remarkable global coalition came together under the UN umbrella to prevent the worst-case scenario of a catastrophic oil spill in the Red Sea,” said Gressly. “We need to finish the work the UN started. The installation of a CALM buoy to which the replacement vessel will be safely tethered is the next crucial step.”
The FSO Safer, containing 1.14 million barrels of oil, had been at risk since it abandoned off Yemen’s Red Sea coast since 2015 amid the ongoing civil war in the country. Due to a lack of maintenance, its condition had deteriorated significantly.
The UN has warned that a major spill would devastate fishing communities on Yemen’s Red Sea coast and cost estimated at $20 billion to cleanup. Disruptions to shipping through the Bab al-Mandab strait to the Suez Canal could cost billions more in global trade losses every day.
The SMIT has been on-site since late May preparing the Safer for the oil transfer operation, which officially kicked off July 25. Preparations included inspections, safety measures, and the installation of oil screens and transfer pipes. The transfer was supported by two Smit Lamnalco tugs and hydraulic pumps were installed to facilitate the transfer. Oil was transferred to the replacement vessel Yemen, formerly the Nautica, which the UN secured from Euronav earlier this year.
“I welcome the news that the transfer of oil from the FSO Safer has been safely concluded today,” commented UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “The United Nations-led operation has prevented what could have been an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe on a colossal scale.”
The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has been implementing the operation. UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner thanked everyone involved in the operation and donors for making the operation possible.
“Today is a proud moment for the many people across the UN System as well as our donors and partners who have worked tirelessly over the past months and years to avert a disaster in a country already vulnerable following protracted conflict. There is still work to be done, but today we can say with confidence that the immediate threat of a spill has been averted,” Steiner said.
SMIT Salvage will now clean the tanks of the Safer, which is expected to take about a week. The FSO Safer will eventually be transported to a green scrapping yard under the responsibility of the UN.
“I am very pleased that we have succeeded in removing the oil from the FSO Safer and transferring it to a modern double hulled tanker,” said Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis. “With our salvage activities, we have once again averted a potential environmental disaster of unprecedented proportions. Thanks in part to the efforts of the Dutch Ministry of Ministry of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation and over two years of preparations by Boskalis, we were able to successfully execute this complex operation on behalf of the United Nations. I would like to compliment our salvage experts in particular for successfully carrying out the work under very challenging conditions in the Red Sea.”
“We are grateful for the efforts of all those who ensured that this operation could take place in a safe and timely manner, including the Boskalis/SMIT salvage team, UN personnel, the international community and all other stakeholders that have contributed,” added Nabil Hayel Saeed Anam, Managing Director of HSA Group’s Yemen region, Yemen’s largest company and the first private sector donor to the operation.
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