Potential Oil Tanker Spill in Yemen; Researchers Expect Humanitarian Disaster

A potential oil spill from a decaying tanker moored off the coast of Yemen could disrupt food and water supplies for millions of people.

Yemeni oil spill
A close-up view of the FSO Safer oil tanker in the Red Sea, Yemen. (Maxar Tech)

ACTNews, YAMAN – A decaying oil tanker moored off the coast of Yemen is expected to spill in the near future as researchers say the condition will worsen the humanitarian disaster in Yemen. The spill is most likely to disrupt the food and water supply for millions of Yemenis.

It is because nearly  70 percent of humanitarian aid to Yemen enters through the ports of Hodeidah and Salif, which are near the stricken Safer, and more than half of Yemen’s population depends on humanitarian aid.

The oil tanker named FSO Safer was constructed in 1976 and has been anchored 60km north of Yemen's port city of Hodeidah since 1988, acting as an FSO terminal to receive Yemeni export crude and load it onto vessels. Safer has not been in use since the Houthis took control of Hodeidah in 2015, but it is estimated to hold 1.1 million barrels of oil. Because of its age, a lack of maintenance, and the breakdown of the crude inside, it has led to a growing risk of a chemical explosion.

In a paper published in the Nature Sustainability journal on Monday, researchers from Stanford University, Harvard University, and UC Berkeley said the oil spills from the Safer tanker will also cause environmental and public health disasters, especially in Yemen.

"The public health impacts of a spill from the oil tanker Safer are expected to be catastrophic, particularly for Yemen," the study said.

For comparison, the amount of oil in the tanker amounts to four times the amount of oil spilt in the world's most environmentally damaging oil spill, the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.

The area of the Red Sea that would be affected by an oil spill from the tanker is home to multiple Yemeni ports, as well as several desalination plants and fisheries that provide an income to millions of Yemenis.

In addition to the coastal damage, the researchers noted that there was a potential for air pollution to reach central and northern areas of Yemen, increasing the number of hospitalizations from cardiovascular issues to anywhere from 5.8 to 42 percent. It would also disrupt supplies in a country that imports nearly all its food and oil.

"With nearly 10 million losing access to clean water and seven million losing access to food supplies, we'd expect mass preventable deaths through starvation, dehydration, and water-borne illness. This is further compounded by the expected fuel and medical supplies shortage, potentially inducing widespread hospital shutdowns. Finally, we expect air pollution to significantly increase the risk of hospitalization for cardiovascular and pulmonary outcomes," said Benjamin Huynh, one of the authors of the paper and a researcher at Stanford University to Middle East Eye.[]