La Mer Rouge

A tanker filled with more than a million barrels of oil has been practically neglected since the start of the war in Yemen five years ago. He could sink at any time.

The other day, the water rushed into the engine room, threatening to send the ship to the bottom. Previously, it was a whole apparatus which, eaten away by rust, had detached itself from the tanker before falling into the water and narrowly missing the pipeline to which it is connected: itself is filled with millions of liters of oil, and it could have shattered right away in shock.

Stationed in the Red Sea, off the Yemeni coast, the oil tanker Safer is literally falling apart. Used to store crude transported by a seven-kilometer long submarine pipeline, this tanker is 45 years old and should have been scrapped two decades ago. Its reservoirs are full of some 1.14 million barrels of oil. If its contents were to spill over into the Red Sea, the planet would face one of the most severe ecological disasters of all time.

No maintenance

Back in March 2015. In Yemen, then began an abominable war which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people, which devastated the country and whose consequences have worsened even more recently with the progression of the Covid pandemic. 19. Off the port of the Ras Isa oil terminal, north of the city of Hodeida now controlled by Houthi rebels, activities have since stopped. It has been more than five years since the Safer underwent the slightest maintenance operation, while corrosion – very important here due to salt and heat – continues to continue its work.

As calls have multiplied for two years, the threat has grown so great that the UN Security Council is due to meet this Wednesday in New York to discuss the issue. “We have been unable to act for years,” notes Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The person in charge confirms to Le Temps that a technical team of experts, hired by the United Nations, is already ready to go on site to assess the damage and, perhaps, to carry out the first repairs. ’emergency. “The Houthis have officially communicated to us that they have given their consent to this mission,” continued the spokesperson. An absolutely essential condition in this country at war: “Once there, this team will have no other protection. It remains risky, but these technicians are ready to leave immediately. ” There are persistent rumors of explosive charges placed around the ship, and possibly even on board.

A currency of exchange

In the past, Houthi fighters have blown hot and cold, promising to open the doors to the UN before closing them immediately, without explanation. At the start of the war, the oil in the Safer’s bunkers was worth around $ 80 million. But since then the price of crude has plummeted, and the oil that comes from the Marib oilfields 430 kilometers away, light and now of poor quality, has lost almost all of its value. To the point that the proceeds of the sale would perhaps not be enough to reimburse the work necessary to empty the Safer and avert the threat of an oil spill.

However, for the Houthis, the importance of this tanker does not end there. Fighting against an international coalition led by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United States, they are struggling to find any international recognition. The tanker and the environmental risks it raises have become a bargaining chip for them in a possible negotiation. “Their ultimate goal is broader. It consists in integrating their oil into the international system and therefore in being internationally legitimized. But the Saudis will never accept it, ”notes an interlocutor close to this theater of operations.

An environmental disaster coupled with a humanitarian disaster

While the territory they control is subject to an implacable embargo (cars line up by the hundreds at each gas station in the capital Sanaa…), the Houthis are determined not to let go. The Americans and their allies “care more about the life of the shrimp than the life of the Yemenis,” recently blurted out Mohamed al-Houthi, one of the leaders of the rebellion, in response to concerns about a possible oil spill. A case of a few endangered shrimp, really? The assessments given by specialists, including the Yemeni environmental organization Holm Akhdar (“Green Dream”), are very far from this table. By way of comparison, the catastrophe caused by the Exxon Valdez off the coast of Alaska in 1989 put roughly a quarter of what is in the Safer. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of threatened birds and fish, there is the prospect of a disaster of incalculable dimensions for an already bloodless Yemen. More than 100,000 families live from fishing, and there is also the risk for water desalination plants, which are often the only way to obtain drinking water. The country imports virtually all goods from outside, and coastal waters would certainly become impassable. If the ship breaks, “you will have two disasters,” summarized the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, in statements made to AFP. “There will be an unparalleled environmental disaster, and it will be a humanitarian disaster, because oil will make the port of Hodeida unusable.” More than 100,000 families live from fishing, and there is also the risk for water desalination plants, which are often the only way to obtain drinking water. The country imports virtually all goods from outside, and coastal waters would certainly become impassable. If the ship breaks, “you will have two disasters,” summarized the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, in statements made to AFP. “There will be an unparalleled environmental disaster, and it will be a humanitarian disaster, because oil will make the port of Hodeida unusable.” More than 100,000 families live from fishing, and there is also the risk for water desalination plants, which are often the only way to obtain drinking water. The country imports virtually all goods from outside, and coastal waters would certainly become impassable. If the ship breaks, “you will have two disasters,” summarized the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, in statements made to AFP. “There will be an unparalleled environmental disaster, and it will be a humanitarian disaster, because oil will make the port of Hodeida unusable.” however, coastal waters would certainly become impassable. If the ship breaks, “you will have two disasters,” summarized the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, in statements made to AFP. “There will be an unparalleled environmental disaster, and it will be a humanitarian disaster, because oil will make the port of Hodeida unusable.” however, coastal waters would certainly become impassable. If the ship breaks, “you will have two disasters,” summarized the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, in statements made to AFP. “There will be an unparalleled environmental disaster, and it will be a humanitarian disaster, because oil will make the port of Hodeida unusable.”

The last coral reefs

A professor at EPFL, Anders Meibom has a trembling voice. A little over a year ago, it was on his initiative that the Transnational Red Sea Research Center was created, which aims to bring together researchers from all the countries bordering the Red Sea around a single project. . At the origin of this initiative, financially supported by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA)? A discovery now firmly established scientifically: while everywhere else corals are dying due to global warming, those of the Red Sea are the only ones in the world to resist, particularly in the north of this sea over 1,800 kilometers long. “It’s a biological miracle. A real gift, ”notes the professor. Having evolved in the warmer waters of the south, these corals still have a margin of acclimatization in the more temperate waters of the north of the sea. “Unlike the coral reefs of Australia or the Caribbean, they can still survive an increase in temperature of 2 or 3 degrees. But of course on condition that they are protected from serious local pollution. ”

Understanding how dramatic the consequences would be for them too, riparian countries (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan) joined the internationally recognized Yemeni government to ask for urgent measures from the UN Security Council. “The problem, however notes the same interlocutor, is that no one is really neutral in this story. If the Houthis have excessively politicized the issue, so does the opposite. ” The camps therefore remain irreconcilable and, during this time, corrosion progresses.

Source: TIME

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