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UN buys Euronav VLCC to transfer oil from decaying Yemen storage tanker

Photo: Euronav Tanker Ann Euronav from above
Euronav VLCC Anne on sea trials
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is acquiring a VLCC from Euronav to transfer oil from an abandoned FSO off the coast of Yemen that threatens environmental disaster.

The FSO Safer holds an estimated 1.14m barrels of oil and is anchored in the Red Sea 4.8 nm from the coast of Yemen. The FSO has not been maintained since 2015 due to the conflict in Yemen giving rise to fears of an environmental catastrophe.

In a project to remove the oil from the decaying FSO the UNDP has acquired a VLCC from tanker owner Euronav.

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.

The UNDP said it was working around the clock with other UN agencies and maritime experts to complete the operation.

Euronav said it would help operate the vessel including for a period of several months after the transfer of oil is completed.

Hugo De Stoop, CEO of Euronav said: “We are very proud to work with the UN in this delicate and sensitive operation in providing an appropriate vessel but also necessary expertise from our operational staff to support the salvage procedure. This critical operation requires dedicated support from Euronav for at least nine months and reflects our wider sustainability and environmental credentials. 

The UNDP has so far raised $95m of the $129m it needs to complete the emergency phase of the operation. Of the $95m raised it has received $75m as of 7 March.

The purchase of a tanker to transfer oil from the FSO Safer has significantly risen in cost over the last year due to the soaring tanker market and resultant increase in asset prices.

David Gressly, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, who has led on UN system-wide efforts on the Safer since September 2021, said,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.”

Should the FSO Safer be allowed to continue to decay it risk explosion and/or breaking up resulting in a massive oil spill. UNDP estimates the spill would wipe out the livelihoods of 200,000 in coastal fishing communities and cost $20bn to clean up.

The tanker acquired from Euronav is currently in drydock for modifications and repair and expected to arrive in Yemen in May this year.