This update builds upon and refines the methodology of the ACAPS FSO Safer assessment from April 2021 (ACAPS 07/04/2021). It uses the International Maritime Organization (IMO) modelling for oil spill risk. The model includes four possible scenarios, but this update includes only the impact of the worst-case scenario. It uses Catapult and Riskaware modelling for the risk of an explosion on board the vessel.
The report also follows the 5 March 2022 announcement of the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the de-facto authority (DFA) in the north of Yemen (also known as the Houthis) and the UN. The memorandum states an agreement to shift the oil from the FSO Safer tanker to another ship, although no further plans or details have been publicly released (Reuters 06/03/2022).
THE RISK FROM FSO SAFER
FSO Safer is a vessel that was used to store and export oil from Yemen’s inland oil fields around Marib. In 2015, the vessel fell under the control of the DFA. It has since been neglected.
Before the conflict, the Safer Exploration & Production Operation Company spent USD 20 million a year on maintenance. As at October 2021, the company could only afford to make minor repairs on the vessel (The New Yorker 04/10/2021). The DFA has repeatedly rejected requests by the UN for a vessel inspection. In November 2020, the DFA agreed to grant a UN team permission to begin checks. They initially planned inspections for February 2021 but got indefinitely delayed (The Maritime Executive 28/01/2021; NYT 02/02/2021). Following the 5 March 2022 announcement of the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the DFA and the UN (Reuters 06/03/2022), in April 2022 the UN Resident Coordinator for Yemen,
David Gressly, outlined the UN-coordinated plan to address the threat with an overall cost of USD 80 million (UN News 11/04/2022).
The coastlines of Yemen’s Red Sea and of neighbouring countries are at risk of an environmental disaster that could happen any day with substantial humanitarian and economic impacts. With the passage of time, the possibility increases of an immense oil leakage from or an explosion of the FSO Safer, which is anchored in the Red Sea 60km north of Al Hodeidah port. If disaster strikes, the vessel could release four times the amount of crude oil spilled in the Exxon Valdez catastrophe of 1989, which majorly affected the environment, people, and their livelihoods in surrounding areas (UNEP 16/07/2020).
The lack of maintenance of the FSO Safer – with its estimated cargo of 1.148 million barrels of Marib light crude oil – makes two scenarios increasingly likely:
1. Oil spill: corrosion and a lack of maintenance of the vessel for an extended period could lead to some of the oil leaking into the sea. Any leak in the engine room and water uncontrollably flowing in could destabilise and potentially sink the entire structure, likely causing a severe oil spill (Green Bee Insights 06/06/2021).
2. An explosion and fire on board the unit: this scenario could result from the accidental ignition of gas that has accumulated in cargo tanks and consecutive leakage of most or all of the oil into the sea (UNEP 16/07/2020).