A rusty giant oil tanker is floating on the 60 kilometers north of the city of Yemen Hodeidah in the the Red Sea.
It is huge and silent, floating in the Red Sea all day long, occasionally you can see employees working on it.
In addition to being a bit bigger, this ship called Safer looks very ordinary.But anyone who knows these tanker that it is an "untimed bomb" and can threaten the lives of millions of people.
Because of its disrepair, Safer may explode, sink, or leak oil at any time. May be next week, tomorrow, or the next second.
Once the tragedy happens, the 1.1 million barrels of oil will flood into the Red Sea, causing the worst oil spill crisis ever created.
Yesterday, a report published in journal Nature Sustainability predicted the possible impact after the Safer tanker oil spill.
Scientists who wrote the story has said the possible of oil spill is increasingly day by day, almost certain to happen since the Safer was abandoned in 2015.
Once the oil spill occurs, oil will quickly cover sea area of major ports within two weeks and result in the interruption of Yemen's fuel import channels.
With no fuel to operating water pumps, 9 million to 9.9 million people will lose tap water, and 5.7 million to 8.4 million people who need food aid will also lose their food sources.
Spreading oil may pollute nearby desalination plants, and 2 million people will not be able to drink fresh water.
Yemen’s fishing industry, which provides livelihoods for 1.7 million people, will also be wiped out. As a pillar industry in Yemen, the fishing industry will be destroyed by 66.5% to 85.2% within a week of the oil spill. Three weeks later, this figure rate will reach 100%.
The oil spill will also pollute the air, the risk of hospitalization for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases will increase from 5.8% to 42%, then the medical system collapsed again on the basis of struggling to cope with the epidemic.
The oil spill in the Red Sea will also threaten the precious flora and fauna of this water.
The Red Sea is one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world. 15% of the fish here are unique, there have large tracts of mangroves protecting vulnerable species, and a coral reef stretches for 4000 kilometers.
This coral reef is the only reef in the world which is known to be able to fight the warming of the sea, and scientists are still studying this coral reef.
If oil leaks, the fertile Red Sea will turn into pitch-black stagnant water, causes unpredictable effects on the entire ecology.
At present, the most serious oil spill accident in the world is the U.S. Vaditz tanker had hit a reef in Prince William Sound in 1989. 11 million gallons of oil was poured into the sea, destroyed the ecology and fisheries of Princes Bay. Until now, there is still oil residual under the beach.
The amount of oil on the Safer is four times than on the Vadiz. If leaks, the situation will even be worse.
The scientist who wrote the report called for urgent actions to prevent an "imminent disaster."
"As long as people remove the oil barrels on the ship as soon as possible, oil spills and other potential hazards can be completely avoided."
This method is simple and effective. Why don't people do it as soon as possible?
Why put 1.1 million barrels of oil on a tanker that has been in disrepair?
In fact, the Yemen government and international agencies have been tried to transfer the oil barrels, but they have not succeeded for so many years, and they have watched small problems to turn into catastrophes that can detonate at any time.
Safer is a 45-year-old ship,which is built by Hitachi Shipyard in 1976. It is 362 meters long, 70 meters wide, and has a deadweight of 406,640 tons. It is one of the largest oil tankers in the world.
Initially, its name was "Esso Japan", which was owned by the oil company Exxon Mobil, the ship was transported oil back and forth between ports in the Middle East and Europe.
Because small cruise ships were more popular, it was almost scrapped,until 1983, when the oil company discovered an oil field in the Malibu Desert in northern Yemen,then they sent it to the Red Sea.
In order to facilitate the storage of oil, Esso Japan was transformed into a floating storage ship in 1987, and the name was also changed to "FSO Safer".
People put the extracted oil on Safer, and then used small cruise ships to transport it to various places, basically it is a "sea gas station."
It was the "golden age" of Safer in the 1980s. It was considered the best place to work in Yemen with clean, paid, well treated environment, and known as a "five-star hotel".
But in the 1990s, Safer began to decay, the hull was dilapidated, employees continued to drain, and oil storage became unsafe.
In 2000, the Hunter Oil Company, which manages Safer, said it must build a wharf and store the oil barrels on the Safer to the wharf warehouse for safer storage.
The Yemen government agreed, and they formed a committee to build the dock, but after the parties invested $1 billion, they didn't even see a single brick, and no one worked at all.
In 2005, the ownership of Safer was transferred to the Yemen state-owned oil company Sepoc. In the following seven years, the interior of Safer continued to rust and aging and to the basically unusable situation.
In 2012, the Yemen government finally made up its mind to build a terminal. They negotiated cooperation with a number of international organizations and received a budget of US$200 million to plan to build a terminal and three large oil storage centers.
After getting the money this time, they really started to work,but only half of the dock was built, and the war broke out.
In 2014, the Houthi armed groups declared a war on the Yemen government. A few months later, they invaded the capital Sana’a, and the president and cabinet officials were forced to resign.
In the following years, the two sides continued to fight, Yemen became a war zone, 4 million people were displaced, and 20 million people depended on humanitarian assistance to get basic food.
In the chaos, no one cared about the Safer and the 1.1 million barrels of oil on it, and the ship’s situation is getting more and more dangerous.
In 2017, Safer could not be launched and has become a "dead ship". Due to unmanned maintenance, the internal structure deteriorated, and there was a risk of hull rupture and petroleum vapor explosion.
Because the surrounding area was still fighting, except for 7 employees (including two chefs and cleaners),no one wanted to stay on the Safer. The rest were busy filling the external fuel tank with sea water to prevent bullets from entering the hull of the ship and causing an explosion. .
At the time, experts estimated that if Safer exploded, 5.9 million Yemenis and1 million Saudi Arabins would be exposed to severe air pollution.
500 square kilometers of farm will also be covered by heavy smoke, deteriorated the food crisis in Yemen.
The spilled oil will also block the Hodeidah Port,if the port is closed for weeks or months, it will cause famine,because Two-thirds of Yemen's food passes through the port.
UNICEF estimates that 300,000 Yemen children will die of hunger and disease if the port closes.
John Ratcliffe, a United Nations expert who studies the Yemen issue, even said that the prolonged closure of the Hodeidah port may trigger a massive famine that has never been seen in the 21st century.
The UN warning calmed the Houthi and the Yemeni government and turned their attention to the Safer ship.
In 2018, they asked the United Nations for help to solve the danger of Safer's possible explosion.
The United Nations agreed to send someone to the ship to check the situation, but the night before the inspection, Houthi suddenly repented and prevented the UN commissioner from boarding the ship.
Houthi explained that they thought the Safer can still be used and hope the United Nations can repair it instead of just transferring the oil drums. In addition, maintenance costs must be paid by the United Nations. At this time, the United Nations is not agreed.
They said that ship inspecting was not within their normal scope of authority, and they could not pay the money if they were asked to repair it.
Before, they had raised funds from consortia in the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom and other countries, and raised $10 million is just for risk assessment of ship.
If it need to be completely renovated and transformed of the ship, it will cost at least another $50 million, and no consortium is willing to give this assistance.
Of course, the United Nations can also buy another giant oil tanker and convert it into a floating storage tanker to replace Safer.
But in this way,the price is higher, and no one wants to do it.
In many discussions, None of the oil barrels on the Safer were missing.
As time passed, the danger increased.
On May 7,2020, Safer alerted and warned that the cabin was flooded.
The turn-engineer hurried to the bottom and was terrified to find that a badly corroded control had burst and the water sprayed into the cabin like an open fire hydrant.
This was the most dangerous moment for Safer by far, and if the cabin is full of water, it will soon sink and then bottom to drain oil.
The crew rescued for five days and nights, tried to use pumps powered by diesel generators to purge the water in the cabin.
The generator failed. Fortunately, an electrician happened to be on the ship and repaired it within a few hours. Then, a team of divers without any tanker knowledge came from Hodeida and fixed the steel plate in the sea tank to prevent sea water from entering.
Fortunately, this rescue team succeeded, and Safer survived for a year.
This incident was full of proof of the criticality of Safer's situation, so is anyone on board to clean up the oil?
Yes, still no one went up to transfer the oil barrels,after the Negotiations between the Houthi and the UN have broken down, they can’t reach to Safer for a long time ,even the bought one-kilometer-long inflatable pipe failed to use.
(The United Nations intended to put a pipe around Safer to prevent oil from flowing outside the pipe)
The Yemeni government also does not want to tread on Houthi-controlled territory and make no attempt.
As for the Houthi, they looked at $100 million worth of oil and scrap metal on the ship and came up with an idea:Sell them and use the earned money to pay for oil transfers and the cost of transporting Safer out of the Red Sea.
This should be the most likely way to achieve it right now.
Yemen's grain trading company, Fahem Group, was shown interest in the matter, said it would hire Dutch maritime relief firm Smit to do oil transfers if feasible.
Although Houthi did not agree on the price with them, at least, they tried to take the first step.
This process will be very long, maybe as long as half a year, their talk may collapse, and what happens to Safer is not known. Safer is a sea bomb, everyone knows it will bring disaster, Because of politics, interests, and unexpected events, everyone looked at it, but didn't solve it.
The most anxious people are the Yemenis. They only hope that this ship can leave quickly and not make life harder...