Years of UN-led efforts to stop a massive oil spill off Yemen’s Red Sea coast have yielded major gains.
Instead the ship Nautica arrived in the Yemeni port of Hodeidah on Saturday evening from Djibouti, transferring more than 1.1 million barrels of oil from the decomposing FSO Safer supertanker.
A first-of-its-kind operation is a risky one – but the spill of residual oil from a crumbling tanker bought by the Yemeni government in the 1980s is even more so.
Observers have worried for years that the FSO safe could crack or explode; A subsequent oil spill would have the potential to wipe out the world’s largest marine ecosystem.
Here’s what you need to know about the operation to contain “one of the worst oil spills in history,” according to the UN.
How long has the tanker been stuck and why?
The 47-year-old supertanker was abandoned eight years ago when civil war broke out in Yemen.
The FSO Safer is anchored near the Ras Issa oil terminal, which is controlled by Yemen’s Houthi movement, which seized large parts of the country in 2015.
Why an oil exchange?
Mohammed Mudawi of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Yemen said the tanker had not been properly maintained since it was abandoned and was located in a mine-strewn area. .
“We have many concerns that it will explode because of the gases,” Mudawi told Al Jazeera.
A supertanker may also collapse because lack of maintenance has weakened its structural integrity.
What damage can an oil spill cause?
According to the UN, a large spill could destroy coral reefs, mangroves and other marine life; exposing millions of people to highly polluted air; destroy fishing communities; force the closing of nearby ports; and disrupting shipping through the Suez Canal.
“A major spill from the ship would cause an environmental and humanitarian disaster,” the UN’s Yemen team said in a statement.
The cost of the cleanup alone is $20 billion.
“A spill would be a disaster. It will spread across the Red Sea, into the Gulf of Aden, disrupt navigation through the Suez Canal and wipe out the world’s richest marine ecosystem,” Al Jazeera’s Hashim Ahelbara said, reporting from Hodeidah.
Because the FSO Safer carries four times the volume of oil, the potential for a massive oil spill is greater, potentially having a greater impact than the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, one of the largest oil spills in history. U.N.
How will the oil transfer take place?
Oil from the supertanker will be pumped into the replacement ship Nautica, which will be transferred from ship to ship, according to the UN.
Once the oil is off-loaded, delivery and installment of a Catenary Anchor Leg Mooring (CALM) buoy will take place, the UN said.
The buoy will then be secured to the beach and used to secure the replacement vessel, a process that should be completed by September, the international body added.
A technical support vessel from Dutch-based company Boskalis/SMITis will be on standby in case of any oil spillage during the operation.
What happens to the oil once it is transferred?
The internationally recognized Houthis, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, and Yemen’s government are at loggerheads over who owns the ship and has the right to sell the oil if it is unloaded.
As a result, the rescue operation cannot be paid for by selling the oil because it is not clear who owns it, the UN said.
The operation is estimated at $148 million, and the UN has so far raised $118 million.
Saeed Al Wushali from the FSO Safer Committee expects Yemen’s oil exports to continue following this operation.
“Oil is a wealth for all of Yemen,” he told Al Jazeera.