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Boskalis starts FSO Safer salvage operation off Yemen

Photo: Boskalis The Ndeavor Comes Alongside on May 30 (Boskalis)[82].jpg
Progress in the effort to secure the cargo of a Japanese-built oil tanker turned floating storage and offloading vessel moored off Yemen for the past 36 years finally appeared possible this week with the arrival of a salvage team from Boskalis to inspect the vessel’s condition.

Years of indecision primarily caused by the fallout from Yemen’s civil war that have turned the FSO Safer into what the New Yorker in 2021 called ‘The Ship that became a Bomb,’ appear finally about to end.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) said this week it was playing a key supporting role in the United Nations-coordinated initiative aimed at preventing an oil spill from the deteriorating vessel. 

“On 30 May 2023 Boskalis’ multipurpose support vessel Ndeavor arrived at the site of the FSO Safer with the salvage team and equipment onboard. Critical work will now start to assess the FSO Safer, inert the oil tanks and ready the vessel for the oil transfer operation,” the IMO said.

The plan is for an oil tanker now in Djibouti to come alongside the FSO Safer once Boskalis completes its inspection and stabilises the cargo to prevent the possibility of explosion.

“The Ndeavor’s crew of experts will inspect the Safer and undertake all necessary work to make it secure for the transfer of oil to the replacement tanker Nautica, which is standing by in Djibouti to travel to the site [in June] and receive the oil,” a statement issued on Tuesday by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which is coordinating the salvage effort, said.

Built in 1976 as the Esso Japan by the Hitachi Zosen Corporation in Japan for Exxon, the single-hulled 407,000 dwt FSO has the capacity to carry 3 million barrels of oil, and today has over 1.1 million barrels on board. It was converted to an FSO, renamed Safer, and transferred to offshore Yemen, in 1987.

Worst-case simulations of the full loss of the FSO Safer’s crude cargo predict an oil slick from Bab Al Mandab Strait north to Al Qunfudah in Saudi Arabia, amounting to around 500km of the Yemeni and Saudi coastlines, and well over half of the Eritrean coast, depending on seasonal tides and currents.

The Boskalis team first needs to assess the presence of gasses on board, prior to declaring it “safe to access,” inspect the pump and engine rooms, render the cargo tanks safe, and refine the salvage plan.