United Nations engineers have finally begun removing more than a million barrels of oil from the long-running oil tanker Safar off the coast of Yemen.
According to Arab News, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the three-week operation costing $143 million to remove the oil will “defuse the world’s biggest time bomb.”
He said that this is an important step to avoid a large-scale environmental and human disaster.
Saudi Arabia welcomed the start of the operation in a statement issued on Wednesday morning.
United Nations officials have been warning for years that the Red Sea and Yemeni coastline are under threat.
Spokeswoman for the United Nations
Sarah Bell, spokeswoman for the United Nations Development Programme, warned that oil could reach African shores, damaging fish stocks for the next 25 years and putting 200,000 jobs at stake.
They feared it would also block ports through which food and supplies reach Yemen, where some 17 million people depend on humanitarian aid.
UN engineers are optimistic that they will succeed in the operation, but rising temperatures, corroded pipes, and hidden sea mines in the surrounding waters could affect it.
“This is the start of the emergency phase of the oil extraction project, so we need to be very careful,” Sarah Bell said.
After years of resistance, the Iran-backed Houthis have finally allowed international engineers to inspect and operate the ship to salvage it.
Since the war in Yemen began in 2015, the 47-year-old Safar has seen little or no maintenance. Now its condition has deteriorated to such an extent that experts have expressed fear of its explosion.
Environmentalists and authorities have warned that if the ship’s cargo were to spill into the sea, there could be a massive environmental disaster.
The oil tanker Safar, carrying more than 11 million barrels of oil, was abandoned near Yemen’s western coastal city of Hodeidah in 2015.
According to Arab News, after the Houthis took control of Hodeidah, international marine engineers left Yemen.
The Yemeni government has been accusing the Houthi rebels of using the rusted oil tanker as a bargaining chip and seeking concessions from the international community, including the Arab League.