FSO Safer, which holds more than one million barrels of oil, is likened to a “time bomb” because it poses the risk of a major spill, either by leaking, breaking or exploding.
The pledges were made at a pledge conference in The Hague, co-sponsored by the UN and the Netherlands, marking the start of efforts to raise the $144 million needed for the scheme.
“We are very grateful to the sponsors who pledged to fund today on very short notice and look forward to receiving further commitments from sponsors who have not yet committed. Once we have enough funding, the work can begin,” speak David Gressly, United Nations Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator for Yemen.
FSO Safer was built in 1976 as an oil tanker and converted into a floating storage and offloading facility (FSO) a decade later.
At 376 meters long, it is one of the largest oil tankers in the world. The amount of crude it holds is more than four times the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez, the tanker that caused one of the largest environmental disasters in US history.
The ship has been anchored off the coast of the Red Sea of Yemen for more than 30 years.
Production, offloading and maintenance ceased in 2015 due to fighting between the Saudi-led pro-government coalition and the Houthi rebels.
The ship is currently undergoing repairs and is at risk of an oil spill, with far-reaching consequences.
No time to wander
Fishing communities on the Red Sea coast will be destroyed, and the nearby ports of Hudaydah and Saleef will be closed. Both are vital to the import of food, fuel and lifesaving supplies in a country where some 17 million people depend on humanitarian aid.
Any oil spill would have an environmental impact on water, coral reefs and mangroves, and disrupt shipping through the Bab al-Mandab Strait to the Suez Canal. The cleanup alone will cost about $20 million.
In a video message sent to the conference, UN Secretary General António Guterres emphasizes the urgent need to act now.
Grandfather speak. “There’s not a single moment to lose.”
The sponsors that signed the pledge at the conference were the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Qatar, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France, Switzerland and Luxembourg.
About $40 million is now available for the UN-coordinated plan, which is supported by Yemen’s conflicting parties and key stakeholders.
It calls for action on two options: the installation of a replacement vessel within 18 months and emergency operations in four months to transfer oil from a decomposing tanker to a safe temporary vessel.
The $144 million total cost includes the $80 million needed for emergency operations, ideally starting in the second half of this month.
Auke Lootsma, Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Program (United Nations Development Program)UNDP) in Yemen, highlighting the urgent need for capital.
“If we don’t get enough emergency funding, the weather to move oil will close,” he said. “In October, high winds and unstable currents make operations more dangerous and increase the risk of vessel breakdown.”