The United Nations (UN) has been given the go-ahead to inspect and make emergency repairs on the derelict oil tanker Safer, an environmental threat off the west coast of Yemen, a UN spokesman said on Tuesday.
Ansar Allah, known as the Houthis, sent a letter to the United Nations on Saturday “indicating their approval of the UN proposal for the planned expert mission to the FSO Safer oil tanker,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
It will be months before the work can begin.
“This has followed several weeks of constructive technical exchanges on the activities that will be undertaken by the expert team; it represents an important step forward in this critical work,” Dujarric said.
“The objective of the UN-led expert mission is to assess the vessel and undertake initial light maintenance, as well as to formulate recommendations on what further action is required to neutralize the risk of an oil spill,” he added.
The world organization has been saying for months that the floating oil storage vessel was in imminent danger of leaking some or all of the more than 1 million barrels of oil on board.
Planning and deployment preparations of the expert UN mission include procurement of necessary equipment, entry permits for all staff, agreement of a work-order system onboard and logistical planning, the spokesman told reporters at a regular briefing.
“The de facto authorities have assured us that they will provide all the necessary facilitation to ensure that the expert team can deploy as quickly as possible,” he said, referring to the rebel Houthis controlling the area.
“I think if everything comes together, we would expect the mission staff and the equipment to arrive on-site by late January or early February,” he added.
The spokesman said the United Nations appreciates the support and cooperation received from all parties, including the de facto authorities in Sana’a and the Government of Yemen.
“We look forward to working with all stakeholders to make this critical mission a success and to start work as soon as possible,” Dujarric said.
The Safer has been moored at Ras Isa, a port north of the city of Hodeidah, since 1988, where it had been receiving, storing and exporting crude oil flowing from the Marib oil fields in Yemen.
Due to the ongoing conflict in Yemen, all production and export operations related to FSO Safer have been suspended, but an estimated over 1 million barrels of oil remain onboard.
It has not been inspected or maintained since 2015.