The UN has purchased a ship to recover a decaying oil tanker abandoned off the coast of Yemen since 2015.

The FSO Safer holds around 1.1 million barrels of crude oil and has been deteriorating since the outbreak of civil war in Yemen. It is currently anchored near the Ras Isa oil terminal, which is controlled by Yemen’s rebel Houthi movement.

The UN declared that the vessel “has decayed to the point where there is an imminent risk it could explode or break apart” and cause an environmental and humanitarian disaster in the region.

A spill from the FSO Safer would likely wipe out 200,000 livelihoods instantly, with fish stocks taking 25 years to recover.  As a result, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has agreed to purchase a very large crude carrier from Euronav, with plans to remove the oil from the tanker.

The newly purchased ship is undergoing maintenance in a drydock, which will be completed by May. The UNDP has contracted marine salvage company SMIT to remove the oil and tow the Safer to a salvage yard.

UNDP administrator Achim Steiner said: “The purchase of this suitable vessel by UNDP marks the beginning of the operational phase of the UN-coordinated plan to safely remove the oil from the Safer and avoid the risk of an environmental and humanitarian disaster on a massive scale. We must accept that this is a very challenging and complex operation.

“UNDP is working around the clock with experts from UN sister agencies including IMO, WFP and UNEP, among others, as well as international consultancies on maritime law, insurance and environmental impact to ensure that we are deploying the best possible expertise to successfully complete this operation.”

David Gressly, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, added: “UNDP’s purchase of the vessel is indeed a major step, made possible by the generosity of donors, the private sector and global citizens. The parties to the conflict continue to endorse the plan.

“Now we are into the operational phase and hopeful the oil will be removed from the Safer within the next three to four months, but we still urgently need funding to implement the plan and prevent disaster.”