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Tanker off Yemen risks spilling four times as much oil as Exxon Valdez- UN

If action is not taken to deal with a deteriorating oil tanker stranded off the coast of war-torn Yemen there is a risk it could spill four times as much oil as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster near Alaska, the United Nations warned on Wednesday.

The Safer tanker is carrying 1.1 million barrels of crude oil and has been stranded off Yemen's Red Sea oil terminal of Ras Issa for more than five years. On May 27 water began leaking into the engine room, threatening to destabilize it, U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock told a Security Council meeting on the issue.

While divers from the Safer Corporation were able to fix the leak, Lowcock - who has mentioned the plight of the tanker during monthly council briefings on Yemen for more than a year - warned that "it is impossible to say how long it might hold."

In a statement after the briefing, the 15-member Security Council "expressed deep alarm at the growing risk that the Safer oil tanker could rupture or explode, causing an environmental, economic, and humanitarian catastrophe for Yemen and its neighbors."

Last week Houthi officials said they would agree to allow a U.N. mission to conduct a technical assessment and whatever initial repairs might be feasible on the tanker. But Lowcock said similar assurances were given in August 2019 and then the Houthis canceled the mission one day before departure.

Yemen foreign minister Mohammed al Hadhrami said- "The proposal consisted of three stages, first, assessment and necessary repairs; two, basic maintenance and facilitating oil extraction; and three, disposal of the tanker. And that all potential revenue from the sale of oil is to be used as a contribution to paying salaries to civil servants in Yemen. The government of Yemen have agreed to this and the Houties have not. I am afraid, Mr. President, that settling to merely granting access to the tanker by the Houties at this stage will not solve the problem, and it will enable them yet again to highjack the issue in the future, when the pressure is lifted."

Permanent representative of Egypt to the UN, Mohamed Idris said-"The deteriorating condition of the 44-year-old Safer oil tanker represents a clear and eminent threat that can at any moment cause a massive environmental and economic catastrophe that adds to the tremendous suffering of the people of Yemen, as well as causing irreversible damage to the coastal states of the Red Sea, including Egypt, and the safety of international maritime transportation through the strategic Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, which is the southern gate to the Suez Canal."

The Security Council called on the Houthis to facilitate unconditional U.N. access to the tanker as soon as possible. Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Iran-allied Houthi group ousted the government from the capital Sanaa in 2014. A Saudi-led military coalition in 2015 intervened in a bid to restore the government.

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