The Houthi rebels in Yemen claim they have sent a team to repair an oil tanker full of 1 million barrels of oil sitting off the Yemeni coast for five years and threatening to leak oil into the sea or to explode.
The maintenance team may not prevent the tanker from leaking oil because the Saudi-led coalition is not allowing access to the equipment needed for the repairs, Bloomberg quoted Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, a member of the ruling political council of the Iran-aligned Houthis, as saying.
The tanker is in an area controlled by the Houthi rebels who have been fighting a Saudi-led Arab coalition in Yemen since 2015. The floating storage and offloading (FSO) unit SAFER has been sitting off Yemen’s coast since early 2015 and hasn’t been maintained or attended since then.
Experts and the UN-recognized Yemeni government have been warning for a year that there is an “imminent environmental and humanitarian catastrophe in the Red Sea.”
The Houthis, however, have been denying access to a UN team to assess the situation and the danger from the tanker.
Last week, the United Nations (UN) warned that the tanker could explode or sink, in the latest warning that an environmental disaster and potential disruption of oil shipping routes around the Red Sea is waiting to happen.
Internal documents obtained by The Associated Press showed last week that seawater had seeped into the engine compartment, rust had taken hold, and the gas that prevents the oil tanks from gathering inflammable gases had leaked out. The damage to the ship is irreversible, experts say, according to the documents obtained by the AP.
The Houthi rebels continue to deny experts access to the oil tanker, sources told the AP.
“They do say that openly to the U.N., ‘We like to have this as something to hold against the international community if attacked,’” a European diplomat told the AP.