A SMIT salvage team has arrived on site of the decaying FSO Safer in the Red Sea where they will begin the operation to remove over one million barrels of oil from the vessel.
SMIT Salvage, a subsidiary of Dutch maritime services company Boskalis, signed an agreement with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in April for the operation.
Th oil removal phase is being carried out by crews on board Boskalis’ multi-purpose cable laying vessel Ndeavor, which arrived at the site on Tuesday. The operation from here will involve an initial onsite inspection before transferring the oil to a UN-purchased Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC), named Nautica, which is standing by in Djibouti before traveling to the site next month and receive the oil.
David Gressly, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, has been leading the UN-led effort to remove oil from the vessel.
“After 2 years of political groundwork, fundraising and UNDP project development, the operation on the water is set to begin!” Gressly tweeted Tuesday.
FSO Safer has been described as a “ticking time bomb.” The rusting floating storage facility has been anchored just a few miles off the Yemen coast for more than 30 years, but offloading and maintenance stopped in 2015 following the start of the war in Yemen, putting the vessel at serious risk of breaking up and spilling the 1.14 million barrels of crude oil that remain inside.
The UN has warned that a major spill would devastate fishing communities on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, impacting the livelihoods of some 200,000 instantly. The cost of cleanup alone is estimated at $20 billion, while disruptions to shipping through the Bab al-Mandab strait to the Suez Canal could cost billions more in global trade losses every day.
Boskalis said previously that the on-site oil operation is expected to take about two months.
“Today marks a critical step in the operation to remove the threat posed by the FSO Safer,” said UN Development Programme Administrator Achim Steiner. “With the marine salvage support vessel Ndeavor onsite, the project can now begin in earnest. This marks the culmination of tremendous amounts of work and coordination among UN agencies, maritime lawyers, oil spill experts and many more.”
The UN warns that although the oil transfer averts the worst-case scenario of a spill of 1 million barrels, the Safer will still hold a considerable amount of residual oil, posing a significant environmental threat to the Red Sea.
The project also remains underfunded, with $29 million still needed, including to safely moor the replacement vessel to a catenary anchor leg mooring buoy and towing the Safer to a green recycling yard.
“With this in mind, we call again upon the international community and private sector to step up and support us to close the funding gap on the project so that we can finish what we have started,” said Steiner.
“Member states, private companies and the general public have contributed $114 million to stop the Red Sea Spill, and so many other partners that have contributed expertise and advocated for this critical operation,” said Gressly.
“This is a great milestone, but we will not rest easy until the operation is completed,” he added.
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