The United Nations hit its fundraising goal Saturday to avert a $20-billion environmental and humanitarian disaster after the Netherlands put up €7.5 million to help salvage the FSO Safer, a disabled oil tanker carrying 1.1 million of barrels of oil in the Red Sea off Yemen.
“Normally, as minister, it’s my job to deal with the repercussions of disasters,” Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Liesje Schreinemacher said in a statement. “In this instance we have a chance to prevent a disaster.”
But Schreinemacher warned that “the Safer is a ticking time bomb. We need swift action. It’s encouraging that so many countries have pledged their financial support. Thanks in part to the Netherlands’ contribution we now have the necessary funds to start salvaging the vessel. Obviously, all the other parties will have to follow through on their pledges as well. The Netherlands stands ready to help the UN start this operation as soon as possible.”
Previously, the Netherlands helped organize a donor conference to raise the US$80 million needed for the salvage operation. At one point, a desperate UN office in Sana’a, Yemen resorted to crowdfunding to try to get the money in place.
Earlier this month, the UN said a salvage company had been hired to stabilize the Safer, a disabled vessel carrying four or five times as much crude oil as the Exxon Valdez. The vessel has been languishing for seven years without maintenance, with a six-member skeleton crew now holding it together “with band-aids and gaffer tape,” an observer familiar with the ship and its condition told The Energy Mix in July.
That makes the ship a “floating time bomb” at serious risk of breaking up or exploding as the region approaches a season of higher winds beginning in October. An oil slick from the Safer would foul shorelines in Yemen, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, and possibly beyond, devastate the “pristine” Red Sea ecosystem, and “wipe out 200,000 jobs in fisheries overnight in Yemen,” said David Gressly, the UN’s resident coordinator/humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.
“If the ship breaks up, it will cost tens of billions of dollars and lives and livelihoods, not to mention the decimation of reefs and mangroves and fishing stocks which will take decades to replenish,” added UN communications advisor Russell Geekie.
“That’s why we’re pushing to get the funding now, so we don’t get into that [high-risk] period one more time,” Gressly said in July.
Two weeks ago, Geekie told The Mix the salvage company, later identified as Houston-based Smit Salvage, would be able to start work during the period of heavier weather between October and December. But he explained there were still uncertainties around the timing of the salvage due to remaining gaps in the funding appeal, delays in turning pledges into money in the bank, and the time it would take to acquire and refit a separate tanker in the Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) class that can take the oil off the Safer.
“We need donors to disburse their pledges,” Geekie said. “We need those pledges turned into cash.”