EnvironmentMiddle EastOffshore

Oil spill detected next to FSO Safer

United Nations inspectors were once again barred from boarding the decaying floating storage tanker Safer yesterday by Houthi militia as images emerge of a leak around the 44-year-old ship moored in the waters of war-torn Yemen.

The FSO Safer, stranded for the past five years to the north of Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah, contains 157,000 tonnes of light crude oil, four times as much as the amount of oil that gushed into the sea off Alaska from the Exxon Valdez tanker 31 years ago.

In May, seawater leaked into the abandoned FSO’s engine room, which was eventually patched by a team of divers.

Research by TankerTrackers using satellite imagery from Planet Labs shows that an oil spill occurred a fortnight ago from the ageing ship.

“From what we’ve been able to gather, the spill went pretty far and wide in the immediate area, but is no longer spilling,” TankerTrackers tweeted on October 3, adding: “The vessel is still floating in place, but time is quickly running out for this ship.”

Saudi Arabia’s UN Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi warned last month that experts had discovered 50 km west of the Safer that a pipeline attached to the vessel had likely separated from the stabilizers holding it to the bottom and it was now floating on the surface of the sea.

The 1976-built ship was owned by the Yemeni government but was seized by the Houthis in 2015. It has been stationed in Yemeni waters for the past 33 years.

Writing for Splash last month, Carlos Luxul, the author of The Ocean Dove, noted of the FSO: “Years of neglect have taken their toll. There are no reliable estimates of the present thickness of the Safer’s hull, but it is not unreasonable to assume that it is down to its last few millimetres in certain places, masked by the presence of a generous coating of marine encrustation.”

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Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.

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