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FSO Safer: A Shipwreck In Slow Motion – The humanitarian economic and environmental effects of an oil catastrophe in the Red Sea [EN/AR]Yemen

FSO Safer: A Shipwreck In Slow Motion – The humanitarian economic and environmental effects of an oil catastrophe in the Red Sea [EN/AR]Yemen

Study shows FSO Safer Tanker could trigger major oil catastrophe

Beirut, Lebanon – Without a swift resolution, an explosion or leak from the rusting oil tanker FSO Safer off the coast of Yemen could trigger one of the biggest oil spill disasters in history. According to a new study by Greenpeace Research Laboratories the effects could be far greater, more severe, and longer-lasting than previously believed. The Exxon Valdez would have four times the amount of oil spilled. This would cause severe environmental damage, exacerbating Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, and affecting other countries.

The FSO Safer is a rusting tanker with over 1.1 million barrels (over 140,000 tonnes) of Marib light crude oil on board anchored in the Red Sea just 6 km (4 miles) off the coast of Yemen, where one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters is unfolding. The vessel is at high risk of exploding and spilling its oil cargo. Negotiations have failed to resolve the problem of how to secure the cargo and ship that has been neglected for seven years. Vital fire fighting and prevention equipment and the ship’s generators are not working.

Ahmed El Droubi, Campaigns Manager at Greenpeace MENA, said: “The abandoned tanker, with its toxic cargo of crude oil, poses a grave threat to the communities and environment of the Red Sea. The Safer can only become safe if the oil from the ship is moved to another vessel or vessels. We urge the United Nations, all parties and governments in the area and around the world to prioritize this effort, despite the financial and political difficulties. Action to prevent a major disaster, or at least mitigate its impact, can no longer wait.”

The effects of an oil leakage on the environment and people in the surrounding area would be catastrophic.

  • Crude oil can contain toxic and carcinogenic substances that can cause harm to the human body. An explosion could cause high levels of pollution and lead to millions of deaths in Yemen and nearby countries.[1]
  • A spillage of oil would worsen the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. It would prevent access to the main ports Hodeidah or Salif from aid being brought into the country. This would affect supplies of food aid for as many as 8.4 million people.[1]
  • Desalination plants on Yemen’s coast at Hodeidah, Salif and Aden could be affected, interrupting the drinking water supply for approximately 10 million people.[1]
  • The entire Red Sea region’s drinking water supply could be contaminated by oil in just three weeks following a spill.[1]
  • Fishing was Yemen’s second largest export before war began and continues to provide a source of income and food security in a country on the brink of famine. Yemeni fisheries which provide support for 1.7 million people would be most likely closed in the event of an oil spillage.[1]
  • The oil could drift to the coastline of Yemen’s neighbouring countries of Djibouti, Eritrea and Saudi Arabia, potentially disrupting shipping routes from and to the Suez Canal and impact tourism to the Red Sea resorts and related local economies.[1][2]
  • An oil spill in the Red Sea would affect a major world’s biodiversity spot which is particularly vulnerable, with a highly biodiverse ecosystem hosting many endemic species and sensitive habitats such as seagrass beds, mangroves and coral reefs.[3]
  • Major spillages can have devastating effects, so it is important to be prepared.[1][4]
  • As a first step to prevent oil from leaking, an oil containment boom must be placed around the Safer. However, a boom will not be sufficient to stop the long-term and short-term humanitarian and environmental effects in the region. This could only be mitigated by removing the oil from the Safer.

Paul Horsman, Project Lead Safer Response Team at Greenpeace International, said: “We accept that there are big challenges in removing the oil securely from the Safer, but the barriers to undertaking this are not technical but political. Although the technology and expertise are available to transfer the oil to other tanksers, negotiations have been going on for months. The Safer is still in a very bad state. Governments and the oil industry have a moral obligation to take ambitious action and stop putting people and pristine ecosystems like the Red Sea at risk for the sake of continued dependence on climate-wrecking fossil fuels.”

Norway, the UK and France, as well as those from the region, such as Bahrain, have prepared stockpiles for oil spill response hardware and could send equipment to the region under United Nations (UN), coordination. Given the political context and ongoing conflict in Yemen, it is vital that the UN and other international organizations take action to prevent an environment- and humanitarian disaster and make the issue a priority in negotiations.

Greenpeace MENA & Greenpeace International are currently working together with organizations in Yemen and the region in order to find and support a solution to the oil and prepare for a response in the event of a major oil leak.



The study “FSO Safer: a shipwreck in slow motion. The humanitarian, economic and environmental impacts of an oil disaster in the making in the Red Sea”, Greenpeace Research laboratories technical report (Review) 01-2022, is available in ArabicIn English.

[1] Huynh, B.Q. Huynh, B.Q. Red Sea oil leakage could have devastating effects on public health. Nat. Sustain. (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41893-021-00774-8

[2] Fine, M. et al. Coral reefs of the Red Sea — Challenges and potential solutions. Regional Studies in Marine Science 25, 100498 (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.rsma.2018.100498

[3] State of the Marine EnvironmentRegional Organization for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden (PERSGA), 2006.

See Also

[4] Kleinhaus, K. et al. Last chance to save a unique marine ecosystem Front. Mar. Sci. 7, 615733 (2020).


Borhene Eddine Fakhfakh, Greenpeace MENA communication officer:, +216 53 623 007

Greenpeace International Press Desk:, +31 (0) 20 718 2470 (available 24 hours)

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