NEWYORK — The United Nations said on Friday that the shipment of more than a million barrels of oil from an old tanker anchored off the coast of war-torn Yemen has been completed, avoiding an environmental disaster.
In a statement, Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said the operation had averted a “serious humanitarian and environmental catastrophe”.
An international team began extracting oil from the wrecked ship called SOF Safer on July 25. All the oil is now on a replacement tanker called MOST Yemen.
Prior to the delivery, Safer carried four times more oil than was spilled in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska, one of the world’s worst ecological disasters, according to the United Nations.
International organizations and human rights groups have warned for years about the possibility of spills or explosions involving oil tankers that are not maintained and have seawater in the engine compartments and damaged pipelines. .
It is anchored 6 kilometers (3.7 mi) from Yemen’s western Red Sea ports of Hodeida and Ras Issa, a strategic area controlled by Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who are at war with internationally recognized government of Yemen.
The warring sides blamed each other for blocking the salvage operation to remove the oil until a United Nations-led initiative succeeded in accessing the ship and raising money from financiers. international aid.
The transfer marks a major milestone in the plan that will require additional funding to move the oil away and move SOF Safer. The United Nations said a small amount of oil remained inside the Safer’s hull and that the salvage team needed to install a safety system to anchor the replacement tanker in deep water.
“As much of the 1.14 million barrels have been mined as possible,” the UN statement said. “However, less than 2% of the original cargo oil still mixed with sediment will be removed during Safer’s final cleanup.”
David Gressly, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator, said on Friday that during the cleanup phase, seawater washing would be used to “exploit as much liquid oil as possible”. It is not yet clear how long this next phase will last.
The United States welcomes news of the success of the operation and calls on other countries to contribute to ensure the work goes through.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said: “The United Nations urgently needs the financial support of the international community and the private sector to fill the remaining $22 million funding gap needed to get the job done. and address all remaining environmental threats.
The tanker, a Japanese-made vessel built in the 1970s, was sold to the Yemeni government in the 1980s to store exports of up to 3 million barrels pumped from oil fields in Yemen’s eastern Marib province. . The ship is 360 meters (1,181 feet) long with 34 tanks.
Peter Berdowski, CEO of marine services company Boskalis, said Safer’s old cargo is now inside a “modern double-hull tanker”. The United Nations has contracted a subsidiary of Boskalis, SMIT Salvage, to remove the oil.
He congratulated the company’s salvage team for “doing the job in very difficult conditions in the Red Sea.”
Yemen’s brutal civil war began in 2014 when the Houthis took the capital Sanaa and much of northern Yemen and forced the government into exile. A Saudi-led coalition, including the United Arab Emirates, intervened the following year to try to restore power to the internationally recognized government.
“In the midst of a conflict zone, remarkable things can happen. Many people think this is an impossible rescue operation,” said Adam Steiner, Director of the United Nations Development Program.