[Last updated on 21 August 2023]
The ship-to-ship transfer of more than 1.1 million barrels of oil from the decaying floating storage and offloading unit FSO Safer to a replacement tanker, the Yemen (formerly known as the Nautica), has been completed (11 August 2023).
Pumping began at 10.45 hours (local time) on 25 July 2023. The transfer followed detailed work to inspect and stabilise the Safer and its cargo.
IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim welcomed the successful transfer of oil and the prevention of an environmental disaster off the coast of Yemen:
"I congratulate all involved and thank the donors who made this possible. Now we look forward to the next stage of the operation, including the safe recycling of the FSO Safer. I encourage further donations so that the UN-led project to remove any remaining environmental threat to the Red Sea can be completed,” Mr Lim said. Read the full statement here.
IMO is playing a key supporting role in the United Nations-coordinated initiative aimed at preventing an oil spill from the FSO Safer, which is moored off the coast of Yemen.
Under the UN initiative, the marine salvage company SMIT, a subsidiary of Boskalis, was contracted to inspect and ready the FSO Safer and carry out a ship-to-ship transfer of the oil.
IMO is providing technical support and has contracted a Crisis Management specialist to be onsite for the length of the operation. While the operation carries risks, there has been extensive contingency planning. As part of this process, IMO has assisted UNDP with the arrangement of the procurement and commissioning of specialized oil spill response equipment to mitigate a spill of oil. In addition to the procurement process, IMO has requested and been facilitating donations of equipment.
As of 11 August, all cargo has been transferred from the FSO Safer to the Yemen. All works on the Safer are now on hold.
SMIT began the transfer of oil on 25 July 2023.
An OSRL 727 aerial dispersant aircraft which had been on operational standby in Djibouti in case of an oil spill during the procedure has returned to the United Kingdom where it remains available for deployment. A stock of dispersant will remain in Djibouti until SMIT leaves the site. Oil Spill Response equipment is also in place as part of Yemen's national contingency plan.
The next critical step will be the instalment of a mooring point attached to the pipeline to which the MOST Yemen can then be safely tethered. The aim is to complete this work by September when the weather in the region is expected to worsen.
Negotiations continue to resolve legal issues concerning the safe recycling of the FSO Safer and the future sale of its oil.
The oil recovery operation
Boskalis’ multipurpose support vessel Ndeavor was moored alongside the FSO Safer following its arrival at the site on 30 May with equipment and the SMIT team onboard. They boarded the FSO Safer the following day. Gas measurements were taken to assess the presence of toxic gas in and around the vessel. The team declared it "safe to access" which meant that critical inspections of the FSO and its deck machinery could be conducted, along with assessments of the structure of the hull.
Mobile inert gas generators were loaded onboard for use in the operation to inert the FSO Safer's oil tanks in readiness for the oil transfer operation, and an inspection of the manifold on board the FSO took place. A mobile fixed staircase was built to facilitate easy and safe access between the Ndeavor and the FSO Safer.
The SMIT team conducted an on site inspection and test of oil spill response equipment including dispersant sprays arm mounted on the supply vessel, the SL Manakin. It and the SL Aden are anchored near the Safer.
Follow Boskalis updates from the scene here.
Since the plans to address the FSO Safer were initiated by the UN in 2019, IMO has been supporting the contingency planning efforts aimed at enhancing preparedness to mitigate the environmental impacts of a potential spill, and providing technical input and support to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Yemen on relevant matters related to the "Operational Plan".
Watch UN Yemen's video below on the start of the critical ship-to-ship oil transfer operation:
Additional funds are still needed to make up a shortfall in covering the immediate US$142 million cost of the emergency phase of the salvage operation. The second phase of the operation, including the removal and safe recycling of the FSO Safer, is expected to cost an additional US$19 million.
1. What is the current situation of the FSO SAFER?
The floating storage and offloading unit (FSO) Safer is located approximately 4.8 nautical miles off the coast of Yemen. It was originally built as an ultra-large crude carrier (ULCC) in Japan in 1976 and converted to an FSO in 1986. Since 1988, it has been moored at Ras Isa where, prior to the escalation of the conflict in 2015, it had been receiving, storing and exporting crude oil flowing from the Marib oil fields. The FSO Safer is owned by Yemen's national oil company, the Safer Exploration & Production Operation Company (SEPOC).
Due to the ongoing conflict in Yemen, all production and export operations related to FSO Safer were suspended in 2015, with an estimated 150,000 MT (around 1.1 million barrels) of crude oil remaining onboard. This corresponds to four times the amount spilled during the Exxon Valdez incident in 1989, even though circumstances differ greatly.
Prior to the arrival of SMIT in May 2023, the FSO had not been inspected or maintained since 2015, and has been out of class since 2016. This led to serious concerns about its integrity. No oil was leaking from the unit, but the risk of an oil spill from the FSO Safer increased as its structure, equipment and operating systems continue to deteriorate increased.
The main risks associated with the FSO are the possible structural failure of the unit following the lack of maintenance which could result in a leak from its cargo tanks due to a fracture on the hull, or as a large release due to an explosion from the build-up of flammable gases.
The situation is particularly complex due to conflict in the region. Efforts to mitigate the risk were futher hampered by the Covid-19 Pandemic.
2. What could be the extent of the environmental damage in the event of a spill?
An oil spill from the FSO Safer would be a major humanitarian and environmental disaster. A significant spill is likely to heavily impact the north-western coastline of Yemen, including the Yemeni Islands in the Red Sea, and Kamaran Island in particular. There is also a potential for oil to drift and impact neighbouring countries, including Djibouti, Eritrea and Saudi Arabia.
The area encompasses vulnerable ecosystems, including mangroves, coral reefs and bird habitats, as well as key infrastructures such as desalination plants and fishing ports.
The specific impacts of a spill would depend on variety of factors, such as the amount of oil spilled, the oil's weathering characteristics and the meteorological and oceanic conditions at the time. Various spill scenarios from FSO Safer have been investigated to enhance the understanding of the potential damage to the environment.
3. What could be the impact of an oil spill for the local populations?
A major oil spill could impact many Yemeni coastal communities, who already rely on humanitarian aid to meet their basic needs. It would have a significant impact on the livelihoods and the health of the people relying on resources from the sea.
Fisheries along the Red Sea Coast of Yemen would likely be severely impacted, leading to hardship for fishing communities and substantial economic losses. An oil spill could also severely disrupt operations at the Hudaydah port, which is the point of entry for most imported goods.
4. What has IMO been doing to prepare the response in case of a spill?
Whilst prevention efforts are the primary focus for securing FSO Safer, adequate preparedness in the event of a spill is also essential to ensure a timely and coordinated response and mitigate the severity of impacts should there be a release. To this end, IMO has supported contingency planning aimed at enhancing preparedness at the national level in the event of a spill. These efforts aim to help improve the efficiency, effectiveness and management of emergency response operations in the event of a spill from the FSO Safer.
Key areas of focus of the planning efforts have included: identifying technical experts to assist in coordinating and managing a spill response at national and local levels; assessing the current capacity to respond to a spill; identifying equipment and resource requirements; and supporting the process for procurement of the required items for deployment to various locations in Yemen.
IMO is working in close collaboration with the UN Resident Coordinator's Office for Yemen and the UNDP Yemen Office, which has direct responsibility within the UN system on matters related to FSO Safer.
Call for additional response equipment
In April 2023, IMO as part of UN-led efforts, called upon Member States to contribute used oil spill response equipment to supplement specialised equipment procured by UNDP and further enhance preparedness efforts in the event of a possible spill from FSO Safer. The request came as a very large crude carrier (VLCC), the Nautica - now named the MOST Yemen - purchased by UNDP, headed to the region to take on the oil from the FSO Safer by emergency ship-to-ship transfer. Read more
What type of equipment did IMO ask for? The indicative list of equipment is annexed to Circular Letter 4714. The request includes conventional spill response items such as booms, skimmers, oil dispersants and portable storage tanks.
Is this the only equipment that will be available? No, UNDP have procured specialized equipment but, to leave no stone unturned, IMO is asking for additional equipment to supplement this.
Who will use the equipment? The equipment will be deployed in the event of a spill under the supervision of trained oil spill response experts engaged to oversee preparedness efforts, including contingency planning.
Where will the equipment be stored? Some equipment will be located in pre-identified locations within Yemen, with additional equipment stored in Djibouti, which is serving as the supply base for the operation.
here for more information on Risk Assessment and Response Preparedness.
5. What could be the role of IMO in the event of a spill?
IMO is able to provide technical support to governments facing a significant oil spill, upon request. Such support may range from providing technical advice and assistance to relevant authorities and regional coordination centres to dispensing technical assistance through the deployment of experts.
Given the potential magnitude of a catastrophic spill from FSO Safer and the security considerations related to the ongoing conflict in Yemen, IMO would join UN system efforts in the event of a major international response.
6. What are the current challenges in preparing for and responding to an oil spill in Yemen?
The ongoing conflict and resulting instability in the region have had a significant impact on the contingency planning work. There are challenges in gathering complete and up-to-date information from stakeholders, amongst others. The current situation would also impact the capacity to mount a response in the event of an oil spill, in view of the limited resources in the area and, more importantly, the security situation arising from the civil conflict in Yemen.
In 2020, IMO and UNDP supported contingency planning workshops to strengthen Yemen's oil spill response capability. Following the first workshop in
Sana'a in February 2022, the second set of workshops were held in
Aden in March 2022, focussing on contingency planning and shorelines response management. Significant additional work to enhance preparedness has been ongoing since that time.
7. What is the plan for the FSO SAFER?
A United Nations-coordinated plan aims to address the threat of an oil leak. This plan is organized in two phases, with the first "emergency phase" - now underway - focusing on securing FSO Safer, and conducting a ship-to-ship transfer to the new vessel to remove the threat of a spill.
Following the emergency operation to transfer the oil to a safe temporary vessel, a catenary anchor leg mooring (CALM) buoy will be installed to which the replacement vessel will be tethered, and the removal of the FSO Safer for safe recycling will take place (read more here).
Once the oil has been transferred to the MOST Yemen, it will be stored there whilst legal issues relating to the subsequent sale of the oil are resolved.
Donate to the UN-coordinated plan
FSO SAFER United Nations-Coordinated Proposal Explainer (11 October 2022)
IMO Secretary-General welcomes FSO Safer milestone (22 September 2022)
A pledging event on 11 May 2022, hosted by the Government of the Netherlands and the United Nations, marked the start in the effort to raise the $144 million that the plan requires, including the $80 million for the emergency operation.
Information on the plan to transfer the oil from the FSO SAFER can be found here - includes Pledging form / Explainer / Operational Plan / Oil Spill Trajectory Modelling
IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim has urged full support for the plan, to avert disaster (message here, video below).
IMO urges all stakeholders to pledge generously to support the planned FSO SAFER operation (download Circular Letter No.4561, 18 May 2022)