“We need to prevent this from happening, instead of when it happens we sit and cry and figure out how we’re going to put money and resources together (to clean up the oil),” Zeina Khalil Hajj, executive director at Greenpeace MENA, tells The Animal Reader about Yemen’s oil tanker that’s a ticking time bomb in the Red Sea.
The oil tanker FSO Safer has more than 1 million barrels of oil on it. The ship is so old and not maintained that at any moment now, it could explode or break, leaking gallons of crude oil in the Red Sea.
It would be a massive oil spill, one of the biggest, destroying marine life and the source of food for the Yemeni people who are already suffering in the war-torn country. The United Nations (UN) has warned that the Safer could spill four times as much oil as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska.
If the oil spills, the Red sea and the Yemeni coast will be most affected, Hajj says. The Red Sea is very rich with coral reefs and mangroves. Five out of the seven surviving marine turtles live there: the green turtle, the hawksbill turtle, the loggerhead turtle, the olive ridley turtle and the leatherback turtle.
For a year, the United Nations (UN) has been aware of the possible disaster, but nothing has changed: the oil is still on the ship. Greenpeace has appealed to the head of the UN, António Guterres, asking for prioritizing this issue, because they feel that that’s not happening now.
Two weeks ago, the UN said Houthi officials had agreed to allow a UN team on the ship to conduct a technical evaluation of the ship. But as far a Hajj knows, that hasn’t happened yet.
International community effort
“Because of the existing conflict in Yemen and the mistrust between all parties, this needs to become an international community effort. If it’s left to the parties that are fighting, they’re not going to agree,” Hajj says.
She emphasizes again that the oil needs to be removed from the ship as soon as possible.
“If we believe we should not take this risk to destroy the Red Sea, to destroy the livelihood of more Yemeni people, then somebody needs to act on this and we believe the UN is the only partner that can channel such an agreement and find a way forward.”