AHMED ATEF (CAIRO)
David Gressly, UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, pointed out that it took about two years of continuous negotiations and fundraising to start the rescue operations and the oil transfer process of the deteriorating, 47-year-old “Safer” oil tank. He highlighted that the operation saved the region from an imminent environmental disaster that would have affected Yemen and neighboring countries.
Gressly, in an interview with Aletihad, said, “The crucial next steps in the “Safer” operation depended on the delivery and installation of an anchor leg buoy, as well as the ship’s haul for final cleaning and safe recycling.” He pointed out that the work is ongoing intensively to begin the implementation of the remaining steps, which would end concerns about environmental threats and increase the security of oil aboard the new ship “Nautica.” The new ship will remain anchored in the area, and the discussions regarding who will control it and determine the fate of the oil are still ongoing.
He noted that many, including some of the 23 countries contributing to the alternative ship project, did not expect the oil transfer from “Safer” to succeed at all. The United Nations (UN) and a group of global partners transferred 1.12 million barrels of oil from the dilapidated tanker “Safer,” which was anchored off the coast of Yemen in the Red Sea, safely storing the cargo in an alternative tanker.
Gressly described the operation as “massive”, saying it prevented an oil spill that could have been four times larger than the “Exxon Valdez” disaster in America in 1989. The UN official detailed the rescue operation, explaining that “the project arose from an initiative proposed in 2021, supported by the Netherlands and Britain.”
Gressly highlighted that coordination efforts with the Yemeni government and the Houthi group were made for their cooperation, which was essential. A memorandum of understanding was signed to facilitate the operation. He pointed out that the Yemeni government provided political and technical support throughout the project’s implementation and pledged to contribute $5 million to the project.
The UN official added, “The plan was released in April 2022, with a budget of $144 million. This is a large amount, but it represents a significant deal compared to the costs of the disaster that was prevented by the rescue efforts. The cleanup alone was estimated to cost around $20 billion. The “Safer” threat could have impacted shipping operations going through the Suez Canal, increasing global transportation costs by additional billions of dollars. The environmental damage could have been severe, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen might have escalated with the closure of ports providing food and life-saving supplies, and it could have contributed to the destruction of the fishing industry in the Red Sea.”
Gressly clarified in his conversation with Aletihad that “The UN resorted to some extraordinary measures in rescuing the “Safer” tanker. These included a public crowdfunding campaign launched in June 2022, which raised $300,000. More importantly, it garnered the attention of global media, thus motivating donors. In addition to this, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) decided to purchase the alternative tanker on March 9, before the full oil transfer financing was available.” The UN Resident Coordinator and Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen added, “The UN Central Emergency Response Fund provided $20 million as interim funding for the UNDP, while the member states, the European Union, the private sector, and the global public contributed $122 million.”
Gressly emphasised that “The UN managed to address the seemingly insurmountable “Safer” threat through strong collaboration with stakeholders who had a significant interest in the success of the operation. Now that the oil is in a safe place, the parties have another stake in completing the operation. They have an opportunity to dispose of the oil to eliminate this threat permanently.”