UN Security Council urges Houthis to allow access to oil tanker

The United Nations Security Council has called on Houthi rebels to allow inspectors to visit the long-abandoned fuel tanker FSO Safer, which is slowly rotting away off the Yemen coast.

The UNSC asked last Thursday that access be expedited “without further delay”. The 15-member council had held a special meeting on the matter at the request of the UK after the rebels said an agreement to allow the UN mission access had “reached a dead end”.

The 45-year-old vessel has 1.1m barrels of crude on board and has been abandoned near Yemen’s western port of Hodeidah since 2015. There were reports that the hull in places had become dangerously thin, and the UN has said that it threatens a catastrophic oil spill that would destroy Red Sea ecosystems, shut down the fishing industry and close Yemen’s lifeline Hodeidah port for six months.

The Council urged the Houthis to “facilitate unconditional and safe access for UN experts to conduct a comprehensive and impartial assessment and initial repair mission without further delay”.

UN inspectors were initially meant to assess the tanker last year, but the mission found itself repeatedly delayed over disagreements with the rebels. The Houthis insist that the UN team conducts maintenance work but the world body says it must be allowed to assess the site first before carrying out any works.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) told the council meeting that the UN team “remains ready to deploy”. “The UN will keep that team on standby for as long as we have donor funding to do so,” said Ms Reena Ghelani, Ocha’s director of operations and advocacy. “Some of those funds, however, will start running out soon, so we hope things will start moving much, much faster,” she said.