UN praises 'positive discussions' between all sides of Yemen conflict over ageing oil tanker
The UN's humanitarian coordinator for war-torn Yemen said he held constructive talks with government officials and Houthi rebels over dealing with the threat posed by a rusting oil tanker abandoned offshore.
Experts warn of the risk of a major environmental disaster posed by the 45-year-old FSO Safer, which lacks both power and a functioning fire fighting system while volatile gases are thought to be building up inside.
"The risk of imminent catastrophe is very real," stressed the UN's David Gressly in a statement Saturday. "We need to translate the good will being shown by all interlocutors into action as soon as possible."
But he praised talks he held last week with all sides in the Yemen conflict on a "UN-coordinated proposal to mitigate the threat".
"In our very positive discussions, the government officials confirmed that they support the UN-coordinated proposal to shift the million barrels of oil onboard the vessel to another ship," said Gressly.
"I also held very constructive discussions" with Houthi rebels, he said, adding that "they also agreed in principle on how to move forward with the UN-coordinated proposal".
Gressly said he was also having talks with countries interested in backing the project, according to the statement, but did not elaborate on that issue.
Environmental group Greenpeace last week warned that the Safer, moored for years off Yemen's western port of Hodeida "with its toxic cargo of crude oil," posed a "grave threat" to millions in the impoverished country.
The ageing #FSOSafer oil tanker is at risk of exploding or leaking its cargo.— Greenpeace (@Greenpeace) January 28, 2022
The event could be one of the biggest oil spill
disasters in history and would exacerbate the humanitarian crisis unfolding in #Yemen.#RedSeahttps://t.co/0yN1TzSR7m
Greenpeace said an oil spill would prevent access to Yemen's main ports of Hodeida and Salif, affecting food aid supplies for up to 8.4 million people.
It also said that desalination plants on the coast could be affected, which would interrupt the drinking water supply for about 10 million people.
Yemeni fisheries would likely shut down and ecosystems in the Red Sea would be destroyed, Greenpeace added, with the impact possibly reaching Djibouti, Eritrea and Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis - who have been battling the government since 2014 - have insisted the UN team conducts maintenance work, but the world body says it must be allowed to assess the site first before carrying out any work.
Yemen's grinding conflict has killed hundred of thousands directly or indirectly and left millions on the brink of famine, according to the UN.