Belgium-based Euronav has signed an agreement with the UN to sell it a VLCC as part of a wider salvage operation for the FSO Safer, located off Yemen. Euronav did not name the vessel, saying only that it would “provide a suitable vessel that will go to drydock for necessary modifications and regular maintenance before sailing to the FSO Safer”.
The unnamed vessel (but see below for a list of candidates) will replace the FSO Safer and will stay there. Euronav will help operate the vessel, including for several months after the transfer of the oil.
The 1976-built FSO Safer is 406,639 dwt, and for more than 30 years it has acted as a storage ship about five miles off the Yemeni coast. However, since 2015 it has been abandoned, with the ownership of the cargo of oil on board a matter of dispute.
UNDP is contracting marine salvage company SMIT to safely remove the oil and prepare the ‘FSO Safer’ for towing to a “green” salvage yard.
The UN has put together a co-ordinated package of salvage operation, management of the FSO Safer and safe handling of the stored crude.
Euronav CEO Hugo De Stoop said that “we are very proud to work with the UN in this delicate and sensitive operation in providing an appropriate vessel, but also necessary expertise from our operational staff to support the salvage procedure.” He said that the operation would require dedicated support from Euronav for at least nine months.
The FSO Safer has about 1.1m barrels of oil on board. Pleas for the donation of a suitable tanker fell on deaf ears; neither was any shipowner willing to lease out a vessel that would be parked so near to a civil war.
The UN has struggled to raise the estimated $129m needed to remove the oil from the Safer, and pay the reported $55m for the vessel bought from Euronav.
So far it has obtained mainly governmental pledges, reaching a total of $95m, of which $75m has been handed over. The UK has pledged about $7m for the operation.
UN Development Programme Administrator Achim Steiner admitted that the price of the tanker was “painful”, noting that a year ago the cost could have been $10m to $15m less.
“We hope, if all things go according to plan, that the operation of the ship-to-ship transfer would actually commence in early May,” Steiner told reporters.
The deal to transfer the oil was only reached with Iran-aligned Houthi rebels by agreeing that the oil would remain in the “possession” of the Houthis.
Two interesting questions are, which tanker has Euronav agreed to sell, and why has it not named it? It has 42 VLCCs on its books, ranging from 320,350 dwt down to 297,350 dwt. There are also two existing FSOs (both built in 2002) – the FSO Africa (IMO 9224764) and FSO Asia (IMO 9224752). Its two oldest VLCCs are the Dalma (IMO 9322279), currently en route from China to Saudi Arabia, and Daishan (IMO 9322281), currently in the Gulf of Guniea, having travelled from Malaysia to Gabon. Both were built in 2007. (But, see next paragraph.)
However, the FSO Africa and FSO Asia are both currently in the Persian Gulf, and another report stated that the VLCC in question was currently in drydock for modifications and regular maintenance in China, and was due to arrive for the transfer operation in early May. If true, that would rule out the Dalma and the Daishan as well.
Vessels in China include the 2016-built, Belgium-flagged Aegean (IMO 9732553), the 2016-built Liberia-flagged Desirade (IMO 9723095), 2015-built, France-flagged Dia (IMO 9723071), 2021-built, Belgium-flagged Diodorus (IMO 9877779), 2016-built, France-flagged Donoussa (IMO 9723083), 2017-built, Liberia-flagged Hatteras (IMO 9730098), and finally, the 2008-built, Liberia-flagged Nautica (IMO 9323948), which is by some stretch the oldest of the Euronav vessels in the region.
Euronav is the world’s largest independent quoted tanker company engaged in the ocean transportation and storage of crude oil. The Company, incorporated in Belgium, is headquartered in Antwerp.
Subsequent to the announcement, the UN relaunched its crowdfunding campaign to help pay for the oil transfer.
“If the missing $34m is raised quickly, the operation can begin within the next three months”, the UN announcement stated.
“The purchase of this suitable vessel by UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) marks the beginning of the operational phase of the UN-coordinated plan to safely remove the oil from the Safer and avoid the risk of an environmental and humanitarian disaster on a massive scale,” said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner.
The UNDP, which is implementing the operation as part of the UN-led initiative, has contracted marine salvage company SMIT to safely remove the oil and prepare the Safer for towing to a scrapping yard.
“We must accept that this is a very challenging and complex operation. UNDP is working around the clock with experts from UN sister agencies including IMO, WFP and UNEP among others as well as international consultancies on maritime law, insurance and environmental impact to ensure that we are deploying the best possible expertise to successfully complete this operation,” said Steiner.