A Disaster Waiting to Happen

Dr Vernon Coleman

You may remember that when a ship called Ever Given got stuck in the Suez Canal last year the resultant blockage caused chaos for international shipping. Indeed, the blocked Canal was blamed for shortages and empty shelves. The Suez Canal was blocked for a nearly a week. The costs were estimated at a billion dollars a day.

That was nothing compared to the problems that are awaiting if or when the FSO Safer sinks or blows up in the Red Sea.

The Safer is one of the biggest oil tankers every made. Built in Japan in 1976 it can carry more than three million barrels of oil. That’s a lot of oil.

Today, the Safer is moored at a Yemen port. If it sinks or catches fire or explodes the result for Yemen will be disaster.

The UK Government reckons that that if something bad happens to the Safer then the port (a major one) will be blocked for up to six months.

That’s bad for the Yemen. But it’s not terribly good for everyone else.

When the Torrey Canyon struck rocks off the coast of Cornwall in 1967 around 800,000 barrels of oil spilled into the English Channel. It was a major problem for the UK and for all shipping passing through the Channel.

The Safer (which holds over three times as much oil) is in such a bad way that according to Lloyd’s List it hasn’t been insured since 2016.

So, what’s the problem?

Well, there’s a lot of oil stored on board and the ship isn’t in terribly good condition. According to an article by Ed Caesar in the New Yorker magazine there was a leak in the engine room in May 2020 and sea water poured into the engine room. There is only a skeleton crew on board. It wouldn’t be possible to deal with a fire on the ship because the water pumps rely on the boiler system which doesn’t work.

So, what could go wrong?

Well, the ship could sink. It could blow up by itself. Or someone could blow it up. Or a stray bullet might hit it.

All of those are very possible.

And all that oil would then spill into the Red Sea.

This would be a disaster for Yemen. And it would be very bad for all of us.

First, half of Saudi Arabia’s drinking water is produced by desalination and there are key desalination plants along the coast.

Second, one of the world’s biggest shipping lanes would be closed. Around a tenth of the world’s trade passes through the nearby Bab el-Mandeb Strait. It would take months (and cost billions) to clear an oil spill that size.

Still, since we know about this it is presumably fair to assume that governments are doing everything they can to make sure nothing bad happens to this ship and its oil cargo

. Well, actually, it isn’t fair to make this assumption.

Because as far as I can see no one is doing anything to stop what now appears to be inevitable.

No one in authority is doing anything except wait for the crisis to happen.

I don’t suppose there could be people who would welcome such a crisis, could there? A crisis that would cause massive food shortages around the world – and which would provide a fatal blow to weak economies everywhere….

Surely not…

Copyright Vernon Coleman January 2022