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Houthi demands cause further delays to Safer repairs

The United Nations (UN) this week said that a new list of demands from Yemen’s Houthis are stifling efforts to assess the condition of the dilapidated Safer floating storage and offloading vessel, which remains anchored offshore the country.

The vessel is moored near the Red Sea port of Ras Isa, north of Hodeidah, and is still thought to have a cargo of more than 1mn barrels of oil onboard.

“Unfortunately, we have encountered some new delays after recent additional requests from the Houthis,” said UN chief spokesman Stephane Dujarric. “Those additional requests focused on logistics and security arrangements,” he added.

Dujarric said that the UN understands “that many member states, including donors to the project, are extremely concerned by these new delays. We, of course, share those concerns”. Meanwhile, he noted that the team is “working as diligently as possible on a field where sometimes the goalposts seem to shift.”

In July 2019, UN officials were prevented from visiting Safer to assess the scale of the damage amid fears that gas build-up in storage tanks could lead to an explosion.

A solution is yet to be found that will lead to the safe unloading of the cargo, with the Houthis demanding guarantees that they will be entitled to the oil, which is worth around $64mn at current crude prices.

Of the mood among the negotiators, Dujarric said: “I think ‘increased worry’ is the right expression. We’ve been talking about this for two years now.”

While there have so far been no leaks, the UN representative noted that this is only “by the grace of God”. Dujarric added: “The more we wait, the chances of a major leak are increasing […] One can only imagine the devastating ecological impact [a leak] it would have on the region and on countries surrounding Yemen (and) bordering the Red Sea whose populations rely on the Red Sea for fishing and for tourism.”

Meanwhile, the Houthis have insisted that the Saudi coalition should be held accountable for any leaks.

The vessel has a total storage capacity of 3mn barrels in 34 tanks and was previously used to store and export oil produced in the central oilfields of Marib.