The impact of an oil spill in the Red Sea from a tanker that is rotting in the water could be far wider than anticipated, with 8 million people losing access to running water and Yemen’s Red Sea fishing stock destroyed within three weeks.
Negotiations are under way to offload the estimated 1.1m barrels of crude oil that remains onboard the FSO Safer, which has been deteriorating by the month since it was abandoned in 2017. The vessel contains four times the amount of oil released by the Exxon Valdez in the Gulf of Alaska in 1989, and a spill is considered increasingly probable.
The oil will spread well beyond Yemen and cause environmental havoc affecting Saudi Arabia, Eritrea and Djibouti, according to the latest modelling, which is unlike previous studies because it examines the impact more than a week after the spill.
Three-way talks between the Houthi rebels, the UN-recognised government of Yemen and the UN have foundered, despite repeated warnings, including at the UN security council, of the impact if the tanker explodes, breaks up or starts leaking. UN officials have been unable to secure guarantees to maintain the vessel, including its rotting hull, which is now overseen by a crew of just seven.
The modelling is published in the journal Nature Sustainability on Monday and showed the spill was likely to lead to the closure of the Red Sea ports of Hodeidah and Salif within two weeks, threatening delivery of 200,000 tonnes of fuel for Yemen, the equivalent to 38% of the national fuel requirement. Fuel prices are likely to rise by as much as 80%, and the absence of fuel for water pumps will result in 8 million Yeminis being deprived of running water. As many as 2 million will lose access to water if desalination plants in the region become polluted. [Continue reading…]