The leaking ‘Safer’ tanker and UN’s frustration
New York: The “grave threat” posed by the Safer oil tanker, whose dire and dilapidated condition risks an environmental, economic and humanitarian catastrophe to Yemen and the region, persists in face of lack of response from the Houthi de facto authorities in Yemen to the multiple requests by the United Nations for granting security assurances to the UN team to be deployed to the tanker.
There’s 1.1 million barrels of oil on that tanker. Last July, the experts had told the UN that the Safer could be an environmental catastrophe of epic proportions if there were not swift access to the ageing and leaking oil storage vessel.
The UN holds the view that to really assess the situation is to get there, and the plan had been to send a team there to do both some mitigation, but also to look at more in depth what was needed to do.
“It’s not a matter of just dropping people from a helicopter. It’s a matter of getting the right technical ships that we need to lease or to rent, people with the right skills. It’s a very delicate operation. And as I said, you have an ageing and rusting oil tanker with a million… more than a million barrels of oil, about eight kilometres off the coast of Yemen. It’s a huge risk. It can have a huge ecological impact,”Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, had recently stated.
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The Government of Yemen — that’s the Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi Government (his position as president of Yemen has been rejected by Houthis and who spends much of his time in exile in Saudi Arabia), made a statement on February 4, 2021, demanding the Security Council to take binding and deterrent measures against the Houthis to prevent the greatest environmental and humanitarian disaster in the region and the world.
However, according to a statement from the UN team of specialists, the Houthis are obstructing the UN work and are getting armed. The UN is further concerned by indications that the Houthi de facto authorities were considering a “review” of their formal approval of the mission to deploy.
Officials said Houthi officials had advised the UN to pause certain preparations pending the outcome of such a process, which would create further delays for the mission. In light of these challenges, the timeline of deployment of the mission for the tanker remained uncertain and dependent on the continued facilitation of all stakeholders involved. And this was causing frustration. “There’s more than a million barrels of oil on that tanker. We have often underscored the risk of a major ecological disaster, and frankly, a major economic disaster for the people who live off the water, not only in Yemen, but in countries in the region. And that explains, I think, our level of frustration,” Dujarric said.
The United Nations is trying to tackle the situation at different levels. There are different people who are dealing with the de facto authorities. There are humanitarian staff besides United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen at the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, and the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS), which is managing the project. As Dujarric says, “It’s a whole of UN effort, a team effort.”
The question also arises about the merit of dealing with the Houthi de facto authorities. Dujarric said, ” We listen, we deal… and this is not just in Yemen. In any conflict where we’re involved as a negotiator, a facilitator, a mediator, whatever term you want to use, we deal with de facto authorities. We deal with the people we need to deal with. It doesn’t… and this is in general terms. It does not imply recognition. It doesn’t imply that we accept what they do. But we need to… if you are negotiating peace, you need to talk to the people who are involved in conflict, whoever they are.”
The Secretariat of the UN Secretary-General stated that it hoped to receive a renewed commitment from the Houthi de facto authorities to resolve this urgent matter as soon as possible. However it was quick to add that any other outcome would be extremely disappointing.
To a question that whether the UN simply wanted to keep on waiting for the Houthis to give it the sign‑off or whether it was time for it to go another route now, Dujarric said it was needed to get there by sea. “On our end, we’re focused on the practical. It would be good for the international community to do whatever they can to support our practical efforts,” he said.
There is quite a number of resolutions of the Security Council on Yemen, including that mentioned Safer oil tanker. “Our wish is to be able to move forward constructively with the repairs and the mitigation measures that are needed on this tanker to avoid a catastrophe that will impact Yemenis regardless of where their allegiances are and that will impact the region,”Dujarric said, adding that so far as the question of imposing any sanctions against the Houthi de facto authorities, that was up to the Security Council to consider.
– global bihari bureau