Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

A file photo shows the FSO Safer supertanker permanently anchored off Yemen's Red Sea coast, west of Hodeida.

A file photo shows the FSO Safer supertanker permanently anchored off Yemen's Red Sea coast, west of Hodeida. (Handout)

Researchers Warn of Looming Oil Spill Four Times Larger Than Exxon Valdez If Urgent Action Not Taken

A "regional environmental and humanitarian disaster" is guaranteed should the oil escape from an aging tanker in the Red Sea.

Andrea Germanos

A team of scientists issued a stark warning Tuesday that the possibility of averting an oil spill bigger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez catastrophe and "disastrous environmental and humanitarian consequences" posed by an abandoned oil tanker in the Red Sea are "quickly disappearing."

At issue is the corroding Safer, moored off the coast of Yemen and under control of Houthi rebels since 2015.

After blocking such efforts for years, Houthi authorities last month approved a United Nations plan to visit the tanker early in 2021. U.N. Environment Program executive director Inger Andersen warned in July that the vessel's deteriorating condition and the over 1 million barrels of oil it holds threaten long-term damage to local ecosystems.

In a policy brief published in Frontiers in Marine Science, researchers said the need to pump off the oil is urgent.

"A massive leak of over 1 million barrels of oil (4 times the Exxon Valdez tanker spill) is anticipated shortly off the coast of Yemen, in the Red Sea, where the Safer floating storage and offloading unit (FSO) is in the final stages of decay." That quantity, they continued, "guarantees a regional environmental and humanitarian disaster," with impacts certain to affect dozens of coastal countries and the sea's rich biodiversity, including its coral reefs.

Given the stakes, the paper called for the U.N. International Maritime Organization and U.N Secretary-General António Guterres to "take coordinated action and achieve access to the Safer by all means necessary in order to pump off the oil."

That action must happen before winter, they added, pointing to models showing that "winter oil dispersion will extend further north and into the center of the Red Sea as compared to a spill dispersing during summer."

"The time is now to prevent a potential devastation to the region's waters and the livelihoods and health of millions of people living in half a dozen countries along the Red Sea's coast," lead author Karine Kleinhaus, MD, MPH, an associate professor of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) at Stony Brook University, said in a statement.

"If a spill from the Safer is allowed to occur," she continued, "the oil would spread via ocean currents to devastate a global ocean resource, as the coral reefs of the northern Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba are projected to be among the last reef ecosystems in the world to survive the coming decades."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Al Jazeera Preparing ICC 'War Crimes' Case Against Israel for Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

"Targeting war correspondents, or journalists working in war zones or occupied territories by killing or physically assaulting them, is a war crime," the network says.

Andrea Germanos ·


Rapid Response Protests Planned to Stop Biden From 'Screwing Up' Student Debt Relief

"$10K, no way," said organizers. "Don't go small, cancel it all!"

Julia Conley ·


G7 Fossil Fuel Funding Pledge a 'Massive Win,' Say Climate Groups

Campaigners say "promises should now urgently be turned into action."

Jake Johnson ·


'This Is Bullsh*t': Instead of Canceling, Abbott Will Deliver Video Speech to NRA

Headlines suggested the Texas governor was "skipping" the group's convention, but in fact he will give a prerecorded address just days after the Uvalde massacre that left 19 children dead.

Jake Johnson ·


Texas Democrat Demands Federal Probe of Police Response to Uvalde Shooting

"State officials have provided conflicting accounts that are at odds with those provided by witnesses," said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo