FSO Safer: Environmental Disaster waiting to happen?


    FSO Safer is a floating oil storage ship that has been lying off the coast of Yemen un-serviced since the outbreak of the civil war in 2015. The risk of an explosion or oil spillage has led it being described as a ticking time bomb and the consequences would be catastrophic. The UN has reached its funding goal to begin its salvage operation of the ship, but with worsening weather and the breakdown of the truce in Yemen, it is clear the operation will not be as easy as initially thought.  

    KJ-1: It is likely international pressure to deal with FSO Safer will continue to grow in the next 6 months.

    • The UN estimates the cost of clean-up to be $20 billion if a spill were to occur and the cost to the environment would be unimaginable. (Source)
    • Work on the salvage operation was aimed to start in early October, yet still hasn’t begun. (Source)
    • From September onwards rough weather will threaten the structural integrity of the ship making a spill more likely. (Source)
    • In May 2022, the United States (US) and the Netherlands called for urgent action to be taken in regard to FSO Safer. (Source)
    • A spill would exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as aid deliveries are often delivered by sea. (Source)
    • The oil cannot be transferred till 2023, alarming nations that are nearby geographically. (Source)
    • The ship is steadily corroding and repair is impossible, thereby requiring a salvage mission. (Source)

    KJ-2: It is likely Houthi rebels will continue to cause issues with the salvaging of FSO Safer by using it as a bargaining chip in negotiations in the next 6 months.

    • On the 23rd of October 2022, Arab Parliament Speaker, Adel Al-Asoumi, claimed Houthi rebels had seized the ship. (Source)
    • The Houthis in 2020 originally kept delaying allowing the UN to inspect the ship. (Source)
    • Houthis regularly hijack peace talks with last minute demands and hold things to ransom. (Source
    • The Yemeni government accused the Houthis of holding the ship hostage as part of their negotiation strategy. (Source)
    • Houthi rebels previously pulled out of agreements to solve the crisis at the last minute. (Source)

    KJ-3: It is likely the funds needed to salvage the FSO Safer will be acquired in the next 6 months.

    • The UN announced funding for the first stage of the operation is secured through crowdfunding. (Source)
    • The UK pledged $2.4 million to the operation. (Source)
    • The Netherlands pledged 7.5 million Euros to the operation allowing the UN to reach its goal. (Source)
    • Qatar donated an additional $1 million after recognising the severity of the issue. (Source)
    • Due to the increasing risk of a spill as time goes on, surrounding nations are donating more funds. (Source)
    • Nations that were slow to contribute money to the scheme now realise the urgency of the situation. (Source)

    Intelligence cut-off date: 15th of November 2022

    Aidan Hickey
    Aidan Hickey
    Aidan is a Third Year War Studies Student at King's College London with a keen interest in the Middle-East and Insurgency.

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