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Houthis again delay expert examination of tanker off Yemen

February 24, 2021 GMT
This satellite image provided by Manar Technologies taken June 14, 2020, shows the FSO Safer tanker moored off Ras Issa port, in Yemen. Houthi rebels are blocking the United Nations from inspecting an abandoned oil tanker moored off the coast of Yemen loaded with more than one million barrels of crude oil. UN officials and experts fear the tanker could explode or leak, causing massive environmental damage to Red Sea marine life. (Maxar Technologies via AP)
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This satellite image provided by Manar Technologies taken June 14, 2020, shows the FSO Safer tanker moored off Ras Issa port, in Yemen. Houthi rebels are blocking the United Nations from inspecting an abandoned oil tanker moored off the coast of Yemen loaded with more than one million barrels of crude oil. UN officials and experts fear the tanker could explode or leak, causing massive environmental damage to Red Sea marine life. (Maxar Technologies via AP)
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This satellite image provided by Manar Technologies taken June 14, 2020, shows the FSO Safer tanker moored off Ras Issa port, in Yemen. Houthi rebels are blocking the United Nations from inspecting an abandoned oil tanker moored off the coast of Yemen loaded with more than one million barrels of crude oil. UN officials and experts fear the tanker could explode or leak, causing massive environmental damage to Red Sea marine life. (Maxar Technologies via AP)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations said Wednesday that new requests by Yemen’s Houthi rebels will further delay U.N. experts from examining an oil tanker moored off the war-torn country’s coast loaded with more than 1 million barrels of crude oil that is at risk of leaking.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the additional requests focus on “logistics and security arrangements,” and “it’s now difficult to say exactly when the mission could be deployed.”

The U.N. warned last year that the tanker, the FSO Safer, hasn’t been maintained for more than five years. Experts fear it could explode or leak, causing huge environmental damage to marine life and affect shipping in the Red Sea.

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The Houthis accepted the scope of work for the technical mission in November, and at that time Dujarric said the U.N. thought the expert team could get to the tanker by early March.

But in early February, Dujarric said the U.N. was “very concerned” that the Houthis might reconsider their approval.

He said the Houthis also had not responded to multiple requests for a letter with security assurances that the U.N. needs to facilitate the leasing of “technically equipped service vessels” required for the mission. Without a letter, he said, the cost of the mission would increase by “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Dujarric said Wednesday the U.N. is talking to the Iranian-backed Houthis about their latest requests “to try to resolve these issues” as quickly as possible.

“This is not a matter of just sending U.N. staff to an area,” he explained. “This is having to procure highly specific and technical equipment, including a tugboat and a barge and people with very, very pointed experience who are able and willing, a private sector company, to go on this first assessment mission.”

Dujarric said the latest Houthi requests have caused “increased worry.”

“The mission will give us the assessment we need to formulate a permanent solution. It is already two years too late and cannot not be stalled any longer,” he said.

“By the grace of God, there has not been a major leak,” Dujarric said. “The more we wait, the chances of a major leak are increasing. Time is not on anyone’s side, and it’s not about us. It’s about the devastating environmental impact that it would have on the region.”