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With yesterday’s news that the United Nations has secured the purchase of an oil tanker to receive oil from the decaying FSO Safer in the Red Sea, the UN is re-launching a crowdfunding campaign to fill budget gaps to complete the safe removal of oil from the vessel.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on Thursday announced an agreement with Belgian tanker company Euronav to purchase a Very Large Crude Carrier as part of the UN-led operation to transfer over a million barrels of oil from the floating storage and offloading vessel.
The replacement vessel is now in drydock for modifications and regular maintenance before setting sail to the FSO Safer, which is moored approximately nine kilometers off Yemen’s Ras Isa peninsula. The operation is scheduled to kick off in early May.
“The purchase of this suitable vessel by UNDP marks the beginning of the operational phase of the UN-coordinated plan to safely remove the oil from the Safer and avoid the risk of an environmental and humanitarian disaster on a massive scale,” said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner.
Due to the conflict in Yemen, the FSO Safer has not been maintained since 2015 and its condition has deteriorated to the point that there is an imminent risk that it could explode or break apart.
The tanker holds 1.1 million barrels of oil, which is approximately four times the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez and enough to create the fifth largest oil spill from a tanker in history if the entire amount is released. Such a spill could devastate fishing communities on Yemen’s Red Sea coast and cause highly polluted air that would affect millions of people.
Additionally, shipping through the Bab al-Mandab strait to the Suez Canal could be disrupted, leading to billions of dollars in global trade losses every day, similar to when the Ever Given grounded in the Canal in 2021. The ports of Hodeidah and Saleef, which are essential for bringing food, fuel, and life-saving supplies into Yemen, could also be closed due to the spill, affecting 17 million people in need of food assistance. A spill could also lead to the closure of desalination plants, cutting off a water source for millions of people. Oil from the Safer could reach the African coast, causing severe environmental impact on coral reefs, life-supporting mangroves, and other marine life.
The UNDP, which is implementing the operation as part of the UN-led initiative, has contracted marine salvage company SMIT to safely remove the oil and prepare the Safer for towing to a scrapping yard.
“We must accept that this is a very challenging and complex operation. UNDP is working around the clock with experts from UN sister agencies including IMO, WFP and UNEP among others as well as international consultancies on maritime law, insurance and environmental impact to ensure that we are deploying the best possible expertise to successfully complete this operation,” added Steiner.
Although the project has received significant international support, high demand for suitable vessels to undertake the operation and spiraling costs attributed to the war in Ukraine means more funds are still required to complete the emergency phase of the plan.
To help bridge the gap, the UN is re-launching a crowdfunding campaign to fill the $34 million budget gap so the operation can begin in the first half of this year as planned. As of March 7, 2023, the UN has raised $95 million, of which $75 million has been received, of the total $129 million cost of the emergency phase of the project.
“UNDP’s purchase of the vessel is indeed a major step, made possible by the generosity of donors, the private sector and global citizens. The parties to the conflict continue to endorse the plan. Now we are into the operational phase and hopeful the oil will be removed from the Safer within the next three to four months. But we still urgently need funding to implement the plan and prevent disaster,” said Sana’a, David Gressly, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, who has led on UN system-wide efforts on the Safer since September 2021.
More about the plan and crowdfunding campaign, along with how to donate, can be found here: https://fundraise.unfoundation.org/give/412602/#!/donation/checkout
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