The U.N., the government of Yemen and Houthi rebels have been in talks about how to handle the FSO Safer. Meanwhile, the enormous floating oil storage vessel remains abandoned in the Red Sea, threatening a massive oil leak.
The FSO Safer is carrying about 1.1 million barrels of crude oil — four times the amount released by the Exxon Valdez in the 1989 catastrophe in Alaska. The vessel has been sitting and deteriorating off the Yemeni coast since it was moored there in 2017. A new modeling study published Monday in the journal Nature Sustainability indicates that the longer it stays, the likelier a spill will be. And with massive consequences.
According to the model, half the oil would evaporate at sea within 24 hours. The rest would float toward Yemen’s western coastline, taking 6-10 days to make landfall. A spill would threaten about two-thirds to more than three-quarters of Yemen’s fisheries within a week and nearly ruin the fisheries within three weeks. Depending on the season and the extent of the spill, between 5.7 and 8.4 million people could run short on food. As the oil continues to spread, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Djibouti could also feel the oily impact of environmental havoc. A spill will crank up oil prices by as much as 80%. Up to 8 million Yemenis who rely on fuel for their water pumps could lose access to running water.
The FSO Safer is 4.8 nautical miles off Yemen’s coast. According to Greenpeace, no maintenance has been done on the vessel since 2014, which is probably why its hull is rotting. Only seven crew members are currently aboard.
Around the world, the $14 trillion shipping industry has a worsening track record of abandoning ships. Last year the number of abandoned ships more than doubled to 85. Often seafarers are stranded with the ships, their wages unpaid and with no way to get home.