Yemen’s Houthi rebels say they’ve sent a maintenance team to repair an ageing oil tanker laden with more than 1 million barrels that the United Nations and environmental groups see as a threat to marine life in the Red Sea.
The decaying vessel Safer has been moored off Houthi-controlled Hodiedah province since 1988. The crude, worth some $40 million at today’s prices of around $40 a barrel, was on board when civil war broke out in Yemen in 2015.
The repair team may fail to prevent the Safer from leaking oil, however, because the Saudi Arabian-led coalition fighting the Houthis has blocked access to necessary equipment, Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, a member of the Houthi ruling political council, said in a statement. The Houthis, who are backed by Iran, can’t sell the oil; international buyers are wary of dealing with them, and the Saudi-led coalition controls waters near the vessel.
Yemen’s UN-recognized government has said the rebels would be to blame for any leaks from the ship because it’s moored in a Houthi-held area. The Houthis have refused to accept any responsibility. The conflict in Yemen has caused severe hunger, an outbreak of deadly cholera, and — in the words of the UN — “the worst man-made humanitarian crisis of our time.”
An oil spill from the Safer could destroy the livelihoods of 126,000 fishermen, according to a statement posted last month on the Yemen-based website Holm Akhdar. Some 850,000 tons of fish in the Red Sea, the Bab El Mandab waterway, and the Gulf of Aden could perish, it said.