US calls on Houthis to prevent ‘environmental catastrophe in the Red Sea
The US State Department condemned the Houthis on Friday for preventing international inspectors from accessing the degrading “FSO Safer” oil vessel off the coast of Hodeidah, saying “the Houthis must cooperate with the Office of the Special Envoy to Yemen and allow the UN to maintain the aging crude oil tanker.”
The FSO Safer vessel, which is a converted oil tanker that functions as a floating oil storage and offloading vessel, is moored off of Hodeidah governorate on the west coast. Due to the severe risk of a massive oil spill, as a result of the lack of maintenance to the vessel throughout the conflict, it has been described as a “time bomb” by international monitors.
“If it leaks, they will be the only ones to blame for the humanitarian costs in Yemen and the environmental catastrophe in the Red Sea,” the US State Department said, referring to the Houthis.
The statement prompted the warring Yemeni parties to exchange accusations via Twitter over who is responsible for preventing maintenance to the vessel, with the Houthis blaming Washington and the Saudi-led military coalition for obstructing the ship’s maintenance.
“The forces of aggression supported by the United States deliberately imposed an unjust blockade and prevented any maintenance,” Houthi spokesman Mohamed Abdulsalam said online, adding that the Houthis have been calling since early on for maintenance to the FSO Safer vessel. “Therefore, it bears all the repercussions of any leakage, and Washington also bears responsibility for providing political cover and military support.”
Mohammed Al-Hadhrami, foreign minister of the internationally-recognized government of Yemen, said “the Houthis lie as they breathe. There is no honesty.” Al-Hadhrami alleged that the Houthis “have been preventing for years the arrival of UN maintenance teams to Safer oil reservoir, and they reject the calls of the government, the Security Council, the European Union, the Arab League and the international community.”
The FSO Safer vessel is anchored about 7 km off the port of Ras Isa in the Houthi-controlled city of Hodeidah, and is carrying an estimated 1.14 million barrels of crude oil on board. The ship has not been maintained since 2014, and as a result of natural erosion and the buildup of gases in the vessel, UN experts have warned of the possibility it could explode at any moment, causing a major environmental disaster in the Red Sea.
The Houthis are proposing to sell the crude oil, estimated to be worth around $80 million, and use the funds to pay public salary payments. The Yemeni government has rejected all attempts by the Houthis to do so, and calls on the United Nations and the international community to put pressure on Houthis to allow the arrival of an international maintenance team, within the framework of the agreement reached between the two sides in Stockholm at the end of 2018.
The United Nations has accused the Houthis of obstructing the maintenance process, and UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, in a briefing to the Security Council last September, said that “the Houthis objected to sending equipment and an assessment team from the United Nations to Djibouti on the Gulf of Aden coast in August, based on a prior agreement with the Houthi authorities."
In its latest resolution on Yemen, the UN Security Council stressed the environmental risks of the oil spill and the need for “UN-staff access to inspect and maintain the Oil Tanker Safar in northern Yemen under Houthi control.”
Edited by Ali Alsakani