The timing of the Russia-Ukraine war could not have been worse for the UN plan to remove the oil cargo from the rusting offshore storage vessel FSO Safer, which has been slowly deteriorating since 2015, laden with more than 2m barrels of oil that Yemen’s Houthi rebels claim to own.
The UN had been putting together a plan to fund the lightering of the Safer for a couple of years, but an initial fund-raising effort failed by some distance to gather the initial target. However, the roughly $40m that was originally found was seen as enough to put into place part of the plan – transferring the oil on the Safer to another tanker. The money’s raised later increased to $82m – still not enough for a full implementation, but sufficient to begin the operation.
The Iran-aligned Houthi militia agreed to salvage work and a transfer, provided it was accepted that it retained control of the oil.
Unfortunately for all parties involved, the sanctions on Russian oil has resulted in an increased demand for tankers, which now have to carry the world’s poil greater distances to keep the world supplied with energy.
Russian oil — now largely barred from Europe’s ports — must travel further, often to India and China. This has meant that a fully crewed VLCC would cost far more than $82m.
An unconventional appeal has gone out for the industry to help secure a supertanker for the job, either as a donation or at a price the UN can afford. While the tanker industry is making vastly increased profits compared to the previous “normal times”, it is also highly fragmented. Getting them to cooperate to contribute one much-needed tanker could be a significant logistical problem.