Greenpeace says polluters must pay for decaying oil tanker in Yemen

Workers on the SAFER oil tanker near Yemen transfer oil to nearby vessel.
Support us and go ad-free

Environmental campaign group Greenpeace has said that polluters must pay for the operation to avert an impending environmental disaster near Yemen.

On Friday 11 August, the United Nations (UN) said it had successfully transferred more than 1m barrels of oil from a decaying oil tanker in the Red Sea. The successful operation removed the imminent risk of a spill.

However, Greenpeace Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has called for the fossil fuel industry to be held accountable for disposal of the vessel and its toxic load.

Abandoned oil tanker

The SAFER is a floating storage and offloading facility. Since the 1980s, the oil and gas industry has moored the vessel off the coast around 50km (30mi) from the Yemeni city of Hodeida.

Companies have not serviced the facility since Saudi Arabia began its deadly campaign against Yemen more than eight years ago.

The aging vessel with its corroding hull was carrying 1.14m barrels of Marib light crude. This is four-times as much oil as was spilled in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska.

Greenpeace has pointed out that oil giants such as TotalEnergies, Exxon, OMV, and Occidental have used the SAFER for decades. Moreover, it has highlighted that the companies are the likely owners of some of the transferred oil.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

Despite this, these wealthy corporations have not provided any assistance to prevent a potentially disastrous spill.

Fossil fuel companies at the heart of war

The oil tanker abandoned near Yemen has exposed millions of people living in the region to the possible risk of a spill or explosion. Greenpeace MENA said that this could also:

inflict irreparable damage on Red Sea ecosystems.

Crucially, an oil spill from the tanker would devastate the livelihoods of the region’s coastal communities. In addition, this would harm communities already facing the horrendous impacts of war and famine inflicted upon them by Saudi Arabia.

Of course, this is not even to mention how the oil and gas industry sits at the heart of the Western-backed war on Yemen. Specifically, Western nations view the Bab el-Mandeb Strait off the coast of Yemen as a key oil shipping lane. Moreover, Saudi Arabia intends to build an oil pipeline through Yemen to enable greater exports.

The US and Europe have sold many billions of dollars worth of arms to Saudi Arabia and its allies. In fact, Western-produced weapons have been central to the war – propping up Saudi Arabia’s assault on the country. Unsurprisingly, some of the fossil fuel companies that have used the SAFER are also headquartered in the US and Europe.

Executive director of Greenpeace MENA Ghiwa Nakat said:

These fossil fuel corporations are obscenely rich and recording staggering profits, but haven’t shown a shred of responsibility. They should be made to pay for the historical and future damage their operations cause. Polluters should bear the costs of their deadly trade, not the affected communities.

Companies driving the climate crisis

Naturally, the impacts of the climate crisis have also magnified the harms of war and famine. Nakat highlighted that the:

oil companies behind the SAFER debacle are the same companies driving the climate crisis.

The Canary’s Tracy Keeling has previously pointed out how the countries most responsible for the climate crisis are also compounding food insecurity in Yemen. High carbon polluters like the US, UK, and other countries in Europe suffer little food insecurity. By comparison, famine-stricken Yemen is a low emitter of greenhouse gases. In reference to the UK’s role, Keeling said that people in Yemen:

are, in part, food insecure because of Britons’ indulgence.

Naturally, this also applies to the other high-emission countries where the Yemen tanker oil companies are headquartered.

Moreover, Keeling has also called attention to the growing risk the climate crisis poses to the MENA region. Keeling reported in April on a new Lancet study spotlighting the importance of slashing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The study detailed how limiting the rise in global warming to below 2°c could reduce heat-related deaths in the region by 80%, compared to a high emissions scenario.

However, as the Canary has also shown, fossil fuel companies are already on the trajectory to produce enough coal, oil, and gas to push the world well past 1.5°c by 2050.

Given big oil’s role in the climate-heightened impacts affecting Yemeni communities, it should not be shirking responsibility for another potential disaster.

‘Ticking time bomb’

As a result of Big Oil’s refusal to clean up the mess, it left the Yemen oil tanker as a “ticking time bomb” for the international community to resolve.

The UN has been desperately raising funds to pay for the operation. It even resorted to organising a crowdfunding campaign to drum up the finances needed for the oil transfer.

However, the UN has previously warned that even with its cargo removed, the SAFER will:

pose a residual environmental threat, holding viscous oil residue and remaining at risk of breaking apart.

The project’s next phase involves stripping and cleaning the SAFER’s tanks and preparing it for towing and scrapping. The UN has said that it expects it to take “anywhere between two to three weeks”.

Greenpeace MENA noted that:

more finance will be needed for the next stages but the oil companies are so far evading their responsibility for the end-of-life for the SAFER.

It has also warned that there’s a real risk the SAFER could end up on one of the ship scrapping beaches in South Asia. There, workers would break down the tanker under dangerous conditions. Moreover, the ship scrap could then have harmful consequences for these host countries and communities.

Of course, the SAFER is a cautionary tale for what is still to come. The industry fueling war, famine, and the climate crisis is not about to take responsibility for its carnage. The Yemen oil tanker is just one more reason why polluters must pay for their planet-wrecking profiteering.

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse.

Feature image via screengrab from Al Jazeera English/Youtube.

Support us and go ad-free

We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support

The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.

The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.

So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.

Support us