Energy News Today

A supertanker full of crude oil decaying amid Yemen’s civil war could blow up

A file photo shows the FSO Safer supertanker permanently anchored off Yemen’s Red Sea coast, west of Hodeida. 


Amman, Jordan — Yemen’s raging civil war has created a ticking time bomb just off the country’s Red Sea coast. The FSO Safer, a 45-year-old supertanker loaded with more than 1 million barrels of crude oil has been caught between the warring sides and left to decay.

Activists and officials warn that the Safer could hemorrhage its cargo into the sea at any time, with devastating consequences for nature and the already-beleaguered people of Yemen.

Yemen’s government says the Safer is in “bad and deteriorating” condition. The single-hulled vessel was part of Yemen’s national oil infrastructure before the war started. Permanently anchored off the vital ports of Ras Issa, Saleef, and Hodeidah, it was used as an offloading terminal for Yemeni oil exports until the war stopped virtually all of that activity. Since then, these ports have become the gateway for about 85% of the vital, but still insufficient humanitarian aid coming into war-torn Yemen.

In 2015, along with the nearby coastline, the Safer fell under the control of Yemen’s Iranian-back Houthi rebels, who now hold much of country’s north, including the capital city of Sanaa. Since then the majority of the crew of the state-owned tanker has left and access barred by the Houthis.

The FSO Safer supertanker, loaded with 1.1 million barrels of Yemeni crude oil, has gone largely unmaintained since Houthi rebels seized control of the vessel from the Yemeni state-run oil company in 2015.


Without routine maintenance to prevent corrosion and keep vital systems running over the last five years, the supertanker is starting to fall apart.

An “imminent” catastrophe

Last week, The Associated Press quoted an official with Yemen’s state-run oil company as saying seawater had entered the engine room, forcing the shutdown of engines used, among other things, to keep inert gas pumping through the empty space in the oil storage tanks. That gas maintains pressure in the tanks to prevent the build-up of oxygen or other potentially flammable gases. The fact that inert gas is no longer being pumped into the tanks creates a serious risk of explosion.

Photos posted online by the Yemeni environmental campaign group Holm Akhdar (Green Dream) show various parts of the vessel severely corroded, which could lead to significant leaks even without an explosion.

Corroded pipework is seen on the FSO Safer supertanker, off the coast of Yemen, in a photo provided by Yemeni environmental campaign group Holm Akhdar. 

Handout/Holm Akhdar

“The hull of the…

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2020-06-29 16:07:00

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