A new report by Greenpeace has cautioned that a possible oil spill from an abandoned vessel would prevent access to crucial ports and affect food aid supply to 8.4 million people.
A long-abandoned fuel tanker off the coast of war-torn Yemen poses a "grave threat" to millions of the impoverished country's residents, potentially exacerbating its humanitarian crisis.
Greenpeace warned in a report released on Thursday that an oil spill from the vessel would prevent access to the main ports of Hudaida and Salif.
This would affect food aid supplies for up to 8.4 million people.
"The abandoned tanker, with its toxic cargo of crude oil, poses a grave threat to the communities and environment of the Red Sea," Greenpeace spokesperson Ahmed El Droubi said in a statement.
"Action to prevent a major disaster, or at least mitigate its impact, can no longer wait."
It also said that desalination plants on the coast in Hudaida, Salif and Aden could be affected, which would interrupt drinking water supply for about 10 million people.
Yemeni fisheries would likely shut down and ecosystems in the Red Sea would be destroyed, Greenpeace added, with the impact possibly reaching Djibouti, Eritrea and Saudi Arabia.
A new @Greenpeace report on deteriorating FSO Safer oil tanker off #Yemen brings together much of what has been published to date on its potential environmental, humanitarian and economic impacts. https://t.co/l4wCHPVCOp pic.twitter.com/P6O5WFfLLO— Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS) (@detoxconflict) January 27, 2022
Build up of volatile gases
The 45-year-old fuel vessel FSO Safer has 1.1 million barrels of crude on board and has been moored out at sea about six km off Yemen's western lifeline port of Hudaida.
Experts have warned that the rusting ship has had almost no maintenance work done in years, that volatile gases may be building up inside and that it lacks both power and a functioning fire-fighting system.
UN inspectors were initially meant to assess the tanker in 2020, but the mission has been repeatedly delayed over disagreements with the Houthi rebel movement, which controls much of the north, including Hudaida and Salif ports.
The Houthis — who have been battling the government since 2014 — insist the UN team conducts maintenance work, but the world body says it must be allowed to assess the site first before carrying out any works.
"The technology and expertise to transfer the oil to other tankers exist, but despite months of negotiations we are still at a stalemate and the Safer remains in its ever-deteriorating state," said Paul Horsman of the Safer response team at Greenpeace International.