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The FSO Safer vessel pictured July 25, 2023, in the Red Sea off Yemen.

Photo courtesy UNDP

Oil Transfer from Decaying FSO Safer Begins After Years-Long, UN-Led Effort

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 3238
July 25, 2023

The UN-led project to prevent a catastrophic oil spill from the decaying FSO Safer supertanker off Yemen’s coast has begun with the transfer of over 1 million barrels of oil from the vessel.

The FSO Safer, containing 1.14 million barrels of oil, is at risk of breaking up or exploding, and a major spill would result in an environmental and humanitarian disaster. The vessel has essentially been 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 has deteriorated significantly.

Oil from the FSO Safer is being transferred to the replacement vessel Yemen (formerly the Nautica) in a ship-to-ship transfer operation that is expected to take 19 days.

The operation is the culmination of a massive effort led by the United Nations Development Programme to secure the vessel and prevent a catastrophic oil spill in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

“In the absence of anyone else willing or able to perform this task, the United Nations stepped up and assumed the risk to conduct this very delicate operation,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “The ship-to-ship transfer of oil which has started today is the critical next step in avoiding an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe on a colossal scale.”

The UNDP has hired SMIT Salvage, part of Dutch marine services firm Boskalis, to carry out the transfer. The SMIT team has been on site since May 30 preparing the FSO Safer for the operation.

Speaking from aboard the salvage vessel Ndeavor, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, David Gressly, said he is hopeful that the transfer of oil will prevent a worst-case scenario. Gressly has spearheaded UN efforts on the Safer since September 2021.

“The transfer of the oil to the Yemen will prevent the worst-case scenario of a catastrophic spill in the Red Sea, but it is not the end of the operation,” said Gressly. “The installation of a CALM buoy to which the replacement vessel will be safely tethered is the next crucial step. I thank donors, private companies and the general public for providing the funds that have brought us to this milestone.”

UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner praised the efforts to pump oil from the vessel, stating that every gallon removed reduces the risk of a potential spill that could harm Yemen and the Red Sea ecosystem.

“The challenges on this project have been huge but the response by so many who have made this rescue operation possible has been equally huge. And it is a reminder of what the United Nations can achieve through its convening power and its capacity to coordinate a complex operation,” said Steiner.

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