Consultancy I.R. Consilium has been monitoring for more than a year the potentially disastrous situation involving the Safer (IMO 7376472), a tanker converted into a floating storage and offloading facility (FSO) off the coast of Yemen. It has been working to motivate action on the matter “before it reaches a calamitous conclusion”.
The consultancy said that its most recent analysis had detailed the potential environmental, humanitarian, and economic effects of a major spill from the rapidly deteriorating and possibly explosive vessel, which had become a bargaining chip in the Yemen conflict.
The UN recently announced a possible breakthrough with the Houthi rebels, who have effective control of the Safer, agreeing to allow a UN team to board the vessel and conduct an inspection.
I.R. Consilium hoped that the negotiators had been able to disentangle what were two distinct issues:
- averting the disaster of a major oil spill;
- sorting out ownership of the oil in the vessel and therefore the revenue it could generate.
The consultancy said that it was difficult to ascertain the risk of explosion. Apart from the possible hazard of volatile gases accumulating in the Safer’s storage tanks from lack of maintenance to the ship’s inert gas system, there was also a chance of detonation by other means. Mines had been laid in a number of places off the Yemen coast.
The structural decay of the vessel presented its own risks. In the exceptionally saline environment of the Red Sea, corrosion advanced quickly. Earlier this year a key piece of the Safer’s offloading machinery rusted through and fell into the waters below, fortunately missing the submarine pipeline feeding the FSO.
Seals and manifolds have rusted through. The offloading hose had already, temporarily, spilled oil into the surrounding waters. The ship’s single hull urgently needed maintenance.