By Nasser M.N. Alshemaimry, CEO and Founder, OceanBased Perpetual Energy
Garnering relatively little attention amid the world’s COVID-19 crisis, an international, ecological, environmental and economic catastrophe has been developing now for years in the Red Sea.
At the outbreak of the Yemeni Civil War in 2015, the Floating Storage and Offloading (FSO) oil tanker “Safer” fell into the hands of Houthi Rebel Forces, which have controlled the area since then.
The single-hull vessel, which rests off Ras Issa near the coast of Hodeida, Yemen, is believed to still be carrying over one million barrels of crude oil. Meanwhile, the same Houthi forces have refused Western assistance or even United Nations intervention, and thus the Safer has been inactive, unmaintained, and now documented to be an advanced state of decay. Now, within its eroding tanks and leaking pipelines brews the imminent danger of ignition and explosion.
The potential resulting disaster threatens the entire sensitive marine environment of the Red Sea, the Suez Canal, Gulf of Aden, Bab al-Mandab, the Straits of Hormuz in the Arabian Gulf, the Mediterranean and the Northern area of the Indian Ocean. Bordering land would be affected near the Gulfs of Suez, Aqaba and Elat, as well as the coasts of Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti to the west from those of Saudi Arabia and Yemen to the east, and the length of the Red Sea, which is between 124 to 155 miles wide.
At least 115 Yemeni islands in the Red Sea would lose their biodiversity and natural species habitats. Three hundred species of corals would disappear from Yemeni waters due to the ensuing lack of oxygen and sunlight. Over 126,000 Yemeni fishermen would lose their source of income in manual fishing areas. The entire Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 islands development in the Red Sea would be affected or completely canceled due to this oil leak.
In perspective, this disaster would dwarf all environmental disasters in recent history, including the 2010 “Deepwater Horizon” British Petroleum Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the 1989 Alaskan Exxon Valdez oil spill. Whether by leakage or explosion, all of the rotting Safer’s oil would wind up in the Red Sea, the boundaries of which are trapped between the Indian Ocean in the south and Egypt’s narrow Suez Canal to the north.
Reports from parties interested in the Yemeni environment, such as the “Green Dream,” list frightening, sad details on what the extent of marine damage would be. Cleanup and recovery could take 30 years or more.
In mid-June 2019, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Marc Lucco, informed the international community of the gravity of the situation. In his briefing to the Security Council, Mr. Lucco said “The occurrence of an oil spill from the tanker (Safer) can reach The Suez Canal in Egypt the Strait of Hormuz. If the Gulf of Aden, the Suez Canal, or the Straits of Hormuz are damaged by this disaster, the entire world trade and oil supply will come to a complete shutdown.”
This is clearly an environmental crime in the making, and the economic, political, military and political aspects of this potential disaster are a given. The responsible parties are those holding the tanker and refusing assistance from the United Nations to safely unload the oil, or at least maintain the Safer to prevent an explosion. Reports of blackmailing by those responsible is a clear violation of every cultural norm and environmental conservation tenet.
Under intense pressure from Yemen’s foreign ministry, the United Nations Security Council has now scheduled a July 15, 2020 meeting on the Safer situation, reports say. Notwithstanding, given this dire situation, the urgency to address it must be amplified. Where are the global environmental organizations that are known for their loud voices and demonstrations? Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has inspired tens of thousands of young people around the world to take to the streets and demand change. Perhaps her presence could make the difference.
To ensure the world’s attention is not lost during this urgent juncture, it is imperative now that those with connections to any United Nations officials, or to U.S., E.U., Japan, or to any major government in the world to advocate for immediate intervention with the Houthis so that we may save the planet from a major disaster that will affect all of us.
Nasser M.N. Alshemaimry founded OceanBased Perpetual Energy in 2012 to tap the potential of ocean current energy off the coast of Florida. As the company’s Chairman and CEO, he currently leads a team of experts focused on harnessing the perpetual power of Florida’s Gulf Stream to produce clean, nontoxic, perpetual energy for commercial use and, of equal importance, to help heal the Earth from the impacts of fossil fuels.