The United Nations Security Council called for immediate action to prevent an oil tanker holding more than 1.1 million barrels off Yemen from leaking.
The council on Wednesday urged Houthi rebels controlling the Red Sea waters where the ship’s located to allow a UN team to inspect it. Mark Lowcock, the UN’s head of humanitarian aid, said a team could be sent within weeks.
The Yemeni government, which has been battling the Houthis in a civil war since 2015, said Tuesday the oil needed to be offloaded to prevent an environmental crisis and said the rebel group was using the tanker for “political blackmail.”
“The international community has to put an end to this looming disaster,” Naser Al-Sharif, Yemen’s vice minister of transport, said in an interview. “This is a time-bomb.”
Repairing the decaying tanker, called Safer and moored off Hodiedah province, would cost tens of millions of dollars, according to Abdulwahed Al-Obaly, an independent Yemeni economic researcher. There’s been no maintenance work for five years and it’s been out of service for 10 years, he said.
The Houthis suggested this week that the UN could assess the ship’s condition. Lowcock said they’ve given similar assurances before, only to backtrack.
In the past, the Houthis have also demanded that the stored oil is sold and the money placed in a central-bank account under their control. The rebels would struggle to sell the crude without UN approval because international buyers are wary of dealing with them, partly because they’re backed by Iran.