Houthi rebels have agreed to allow a UN mission to inspect and secure the FSO Safer, an oil tanker that has been abandoned off Yemen’s Red Sea coast for five years, with little to no maintenance.
FSO Safer has been sitting for the past five years a short distance to the north of the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah. It has 157,000 tonnes of light crude oil on board. In May this year seawater leaked into the abandoned FSO’s engine room, which was eventually patched by a team of divers.
The FSO, built in 1976, was owned by the Saudi coalition-backed Yemeni government, but was seized by the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in 2015, along with Hodeidah port. The FSO has been in Yemeni waters since 1987, with little care for it in recent years. No-one knows how thin the hull might be in places.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the inspection and securing work could begin early in 2021.
The Houthi rebels had reached a deal that would have granted a UN team access to the tanker in July, but the decision was never implemented.
Mr Dujarric said the new agreement, announced in an official letter from the Houthis on Saturday November 21st, would be more formal and that it represented ” an important step forward in this critical work”.
Securing a long-term solution has been complicated by a dispute over the oil on board the vessel, which the Houthis have insisted they should be able to sell.
The UN was said to be discussing the division of the proceeds between the Houthis and the Yemeni government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states.