A Time-Bomb Waits to Explode in The Red Sea

Published August 16th, 2022 - 09:21 GMT
A Yemeni fisherman
Yemeni fishermen bring their catch off boats at a beach on the Red Sea coast in the Khokha district of Yemen’s western province of Hodeida, September 2006. © Khaled Ziad / AFP via Getty Images

The world stands on a powder-keg, waiting for the inevitable hard-rocking explosion in the Red Sea. The United Nations along with other leading powers fear that the beleaguered long-haul ship, long in disuse and decay since 2015 will either cause a massive oil spill and/or explode. 

The SAFER platform, once the pride-and-joy of the Yemeni Oil Company and established in 1976 as a 376-meters-long FSO (floating, storage and off-loading) platform, now stands in tatters in the middle of the Red Sea, above the port of Hodiedah and veering towards the Ras Issa Oil Terminal on the west coast of Yemen.

What is making matters worse is the decaying 1.148 million barrels of oil (48 million gallons of the black substance) that is on board and the gases its omitting. When the Houthis took over the area and the tanker in 2015, it ceased to be maintained and fell into disrepair. This brought on many outstanding technical issues and the poisonous vapors its created since then is making it to a living time-bomb in the sea, waiting to explode anytime. 

If this were to explode it would create uncountable damages to the people of the area. In Yemen alone an explosion would create harmful diseases and pollutants with great, thick, black clouds over the western part of the country and the surrounding area, posing vast health and respiratory problems to millions of Yemenis who already have little or no heath care or services. 

The on-going deadly war in the country that killed millions – with UN forecasts at 377,000 – and displaced millions with led by the Saudi-led Arab coalition and the Houthis who took over the country, is making things worse and unbearable. The tanker is just getting in the way of things, while others say the Houthis are using the floating tanks to gain more political advantage.

An exploding tanker would also cripple its fishing sector judged to be the second largest exporter in the country with one expert estimating the number of fishermen around the Hodeidah port area standing at 67,800 fishermen. Their livelihood would be wiped out overnight because of this impending calamity and the UN estimates it would take around 25 years for the fishing stock to replenish itself. 

Yemen, a country with a population of 29 million, is literally in a state of poverty as two third of its people depend on aid to survive. It has long been estimated by the United Nations it is a country that is unable to feed itself with 16 million experiencing hunger and over 400,000 children standing on the edge of starving to death.

Another environmental disaster would be a major disruption with deleterious consequences. It would stop drinking water, limit fuel supplies, hit transportation and create havoc among the hundred of farmers in the area according to one risk assessment agency

An oil slick would likely close off the port of Hodiedeh, which is 60 kilometers south of the Safer tanker and move on downwards to the Bab Al Mandeb Straits that would close it off to international shipping and cause the lose of billions of dollars whilst the mopping up operations take place. The Straits contributes to 10 percent of global trade with daily shipping carrying cargoes to-and-fro.  


The international community, and also the littoral countries around the ship, Yemen itself, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti are deeply concerned about the risks and dangers carried by the Safer tanker that gets bigger the longer it stays at sea. An explosion or a great oil spill will ruin their sea-faring economies not to say anything about the ecological set of disasters it will create and the thousands-of-years-old corrals, reefs and mangroves. 

If the tanker is split due to corrosion – and many expect that if its not maintained, actually many say its beyond repair and has to be scrapped – and or explodes, experts estimate it would need a gigantic $20 billion to clean up the area - it will be a mammoth task, certainly the oil spill four times as big as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska. 

The UN says it needs $144 million to work a plan to scrap the tanker and make it safer for the world and the environment. The plan would take up to two years and involves to stages: The first stage termed an "emergency operation" would cost $80 million and four months is yet waiting to happen. 

The UN says it has nearly secured the funding to start the clearing operations as it has already secured $60 million from different countries and its needs $20 million more which shouldn't be difficult to secure according to UN officials. But the problem now is starting and finishing this delicate operation before the weather changes this coming October and the onset of strong winds, high seas and changing currents. This would make the transfer of the barrels of oil onto another ship doubly difficult and in the light of the fact that this ship platform maybe breaking up. 

The world environmentalist NGO Greenpeace has long put up a petition to speed up this process arguing there is no time to lose and the world has a "moral responsibility to intervene in solidarity and contribute to protect the people of Yemen and the natural wounders of the Red Sea."

So we are nearly there to start operations despite the feeling that a touch of lethargy may continue to hinder the work process in the light of the fact that the wreak, which is essentially what it is has been standing in midst the water since 2015 with the idea, wrongly held, is that it can continue for a while longer. Now this thinking is perilous by itself because of the potential consequences. So Safer must also mean now in a hurry! 

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