AMSTERDAM (AP) — A Dutch salvage company has reached agreement with the United Nations to pump oil from a rusting tanker off the coast of war-ravaged Yemen in a move hailed as a “critical milestone” in moves to avert a possible environmental disaster, its parent company announced Thursday.
Boskalis said that its Smit Salvage subsidiary has reached agreement with the U.N. Development Program to transfer more than one million barrels of oil from the decaying tanker FSO Safer. A specialist support ship, the Ndeavor, is setting sail Friday to the east African nation of Djibouti to prepare for the mission, the company said.
The announcement came just over a month after the U.N. said it had signed an agreement to buy a very large vessel that can hold oil pumped off the Safer.
The Japanese-made Safer was built in the 1970s and sold to the Yemeni government in the 1980s to store up to 3 million barrels of oil pumped from fields in Marib, a province in eastern Yemen. With the impoverished Arab Peninsula country engulfed for years in civil war, no annual maintenance has been carried out on the ship, which is is 360 meters (1,181 feet) long with 34 storage tanks, since 2015.
In 2020, internal documents obtained by The Associated Press showed that seawater has entered Safer’s engine compartment, causing damage to pipes and increasing the risk of sinking. Rust has covered parts of the tanker and the inert gas that prevents the tanks from gathering inflammable gases has leaked out.
UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner called the agreement with Boskalis “another critical milestone of the ‘Stop Red Sea Spill’ operation to transfer oil” from the FSO Safer.
“We look forward to be working with Boskalis and other leading experts to prevent a humanitarian, environmental and economic disaster,” he added, while appealing to governments and businesses to help raise the remaining $29 million needed to fund the operation.
“An enormous oil disaster is looming, which could have serious humanitarian, environmental and economic implications. But we now have a chance to prevent that disaster,” Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Liesje Schreinemacher said in a statement. The Dutch government worked with the UNDP to raise funds for the mission.