By EDITH M. LEDERER
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Donors pledged an additional $5.6 million Thursday that will enable the United Nations to start transferring more than 1 million barrels of crude oil from a rusting tanker off the coast of war-torn Yemen that poses a major environmental threat, but the U.N. said nearly $24 million is still needed to offload all the oil.
A large vessel called the Nautica, which was purchased by the U.N. Development Program in March to take on the oil from the FSO Safer, is expected to arrive in the region in the coming days and the transfer operation is expected to start before the end of the month, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.
The UNDP said Egypt, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, South Korea, the United Kingdom and private company Octavia Energy and its subsidiary Calvalley Petroleum announced pledges totaling almost $8 million, of which $5.6 million represents new funding.
With the new pledges, the U.N. has now raised $105.2 million for the operation to remove the oil from the Safer, with an addition $23.8 million still needed, UNDP said.
“But we’re hopeful that as nations are aware of the need to avert a crisis in the Red Sea, they’ll come up with the funding we need,” Haq said.
For the second phase of the operation, UNDP said an additional $19 million will be needed to secure the Nautica and its newly transferred cargo of oil and to tow the Safer tanker to a salvage yard for recycling.
The Japanese-made Safer was built in the 1970s and sold to the Yemeni government in the 1980s to store up to 3 million barrels of oil pumped from fields in Marib, a province in eastern Yemen. The impoverished Arab Peninsula country has for years been engulfed in civil war.
Yemen’s conflict started in 2014 when the Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north, forcing the government to flee to the south, then to Saudi Arabia. The following year, a Saudi-led coalition entered the war to fight the Houthis and try to restore the internationally recognized government to power.
No annual maintenance has been done since 2015 on the ship, which is 360 meters (1,181 feet) long with 34 storage tanks. Most crew members, except for 10 people, were pulled off the vessel after the Saudis entered the conflict, and it’s uncertain what the crew of the Nautica will find when they get to the tanker.
In 2020, internal documents obtained by The Associated Press showed that seawater has entered Safer’s engine compartment, causing damage to pipes and increasing the risk of sinking. Rust has covered parts of the tanker and the inert gas that prevents the tanks from gathering inflammable gases has leaked out.
Experts said maintenance was no longer possible because the damage to the ship is irreversible, according to an AP report.