UN officials during a media briefing at the headquarters during the beginning of the General Session reported that work on the decaying FSO Safer positioned off the coast of Yemen is expected to begin within the next few weeks. They said that steps are being taken to finalize contracts, ensure that all of the parties in the region including the Houthi rebels are involved, and complete the receipt of the financial pledges from donor countries around the world.
David Gressly, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, briefed journalists at UN Headquarters following an event co-hosted by the Netherlands, United States, and Germany, to discuss the planning for the salvage operation. Gressly said that they have reached a “significant milestone,” after a long effort by the UN to avert a potential disaster if the aging vessel fails. “Everybody understands the cost, everybody understands the impact, and everybody wants to act. I take great satisfaction in seeing that unified effort today, to find a solution,” said Gressly.
The Dutch salvage company, Smit, which has already been consulting on the project is expected to receive the contract for the first phase of the salvage operation. Gressly said that contracts were still being finalized but that the next crucial step was now to carry out the salvage, which should “begin in earnest in a few weeks.”
He projected that it would take up to four months to complete the project saying that it would begin with planning work and various efforts to stabilize the vessel which was been positioned off the Yemen coast for more than 30 years. The approximately 1 million barrels of oil currently aboard have been on the vessel since 2015 when the pumping operations were suspended. Maintenance operations have also been largely suspended leading the UN to conclude this year that the vessel was beyond repair.
Gressly points out that they believe there are toxic gasses built up in the tanks of the vessel which presents one of the greatest risks. Normal venting operations have not been carried out and as such it is currently dangerous to open the tanks. The system used to vent inert gases from the oil tanks no longer functions.
During the first phase, he said the vessel would be stabilized and prepared for the transfer. Then they will use hydraulic pumps to transfer the oil to a temporary vessel that will be moored alongside the FSO Safer. The salvage team will then conduct further clean-up including residual oil and sediment that has formed in the tanks.
Gressly confirmed that the UN had pledges for $77 million from 17 countries, the private sector, philanthropic foundations, and a crowd-funding initiative that he said raised $1.2 million. They have signed agreements with most of the countries and firm commitments from the others but are still working to convert the pledges into cash.
While this will give the UN enough to complete the transfer of the oil from the FSO Safer and the remediation efforts for the aging vessel, the UN is still seeking an additional $38 million for the further parts of the operation. He said he was confident based on the momentum and the fact that the work is now starting that they will quickly reach the complete financial goal.
The UN plan is to transfer the oil to a secure double-hulled vessel, as a permanent storage solution, until the political situation in Yemen allows it to be sold or transported elsewhere. The FSO Safer will be removed and sold for scrap.