The long-awaited operation to resolve the issue of the ageing tanker SFO Safer, currently decaying off the coast of Yemen, is set to end in the coming days, with over 96 percent of the ship’s oil cargo transferred to a replacement tanker, the Yemeni government said on Wednesday.
Capt. Yeslem Mubarak, vice executive chairman of the Maritime Affairs Authority and acting head of the Safer National Committee, told Arab News that as of 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 1.105 million barrels of oil had been siphoned from the Safer, with the current phase of the operation to conclude over the weekend. The Yemeni official said the pumping process slowed as oil levels reduced.
The UN announced on July 25 the start of the operation to pump more than 1.1 million barrels of oil from the Safer to head off a major environmental disaster in the Red Sea.
Moored off the western Yemeni city of Hodeidah, the four-decade-old tanker has attracted international attention over the past few years after images revealed water seeping into the vessel as corrosion ate away at its hull.
Russell Geekie, communications advisor to UN Humanitarian Coordinator David Gressly, recently told Arab News that the UN still requires $28 million in additional funding to complete the second phase of the operation, which includes removing the deteriorating tanker itself and safely recycling it, as well as attaching a catenary anchor leg mooring buoy to the replacement tanker.
Critics, including some Yemeni government officials, argue that the UN is effectively setting another time bomb in the Red Sea by allowing the newly loaded oil tanker to moor in the area next to the deteriorating Safer until the government and the Houthis agree on who will receive the proceeds of the oil sales.
Officials say that the Houthis may use the new tanker as leverage to extract concessions from the Yemeni government and international community, as they did previously with the Safer.
“We hope that efforts will result in a solution to the problem of selling oil so that the disaster can be completely averted before the condition of the alternative tanker deteriorates, as the Houthis’ failure and inability to provide funds for its maintenance will again turn it into a ticking time bomb, as was the case with the Safer,” Mubarak said.