UN begins removing oil off decaying Yemen tanker

STORY: Salvage and wreck removal experts arrived on Tuesday to recover 1.1 million barrels of oil from the FSO Safer, a decaying super-tanker in Yemen which the United Nations warns could break up or explode any day.

If a spill happens, the UN has warned it could be an environmental disaster, that it could dump four times as much oil into the Red Sea as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska.

The Safer has been sitting off the coast of Yemen since 1988 however the country's war caused maintenance operations onboard to be suspended since 2015.

The UN has contracted the companies Boskalis and SMIT to help transfer the oil off the decaying tanker, and onto a safe replacement vessel.

Crews and experts were seen speaking with Houthi officials onboard a technical support ship. UN official in Yemen David Gressly was optimistic about the progress they would make.

“I think this combination has worked very well for us to find a way forward for a problem that’s been here for eight years. People have been talking about it, but not doing anything about it. This group has been able to do something about it. I believe we’ll be successful. We’ll continue to push forward until we succeed.”

Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Iran-supported Houthi group ousted the government in 2014. A Saudi-led coalition intervened the year after, to aim to restore the government.

This year, a UN fundraising drive to make the FSO Safer’s salvage operation possible brought in $129 million, but the UN said on its Yemen Twitter account that additional funding is still important to finish the process.

The salvage operation can’t be paid for by selling the oil onboard the tanker, because it’s unclear who owns it.