21 September 2022 - Yemen

Time running out for millions of people threatened by environmental 'ticking time bomb' off Yemen's coast

The port of Hodeidah, Yemen [Save the Children]


SANA’A, 21 September As the wild weather of winter approaches, over one million barrels of crude oil are at risk of spilling into the Red Sea from the FSO Safer, a supertanker that has been rusting away off Yemen's coast since 2015, Save the Children warned today.

By October, it’s predicted that high winds and volatile currents make the oil transfer operation more dangerous and increase the risk of the ship breaking up, unleashing disastrous humanitarian, environmental, and economic consequences for millions of children in in an already devastated region.

While on Monday the UN announced it had finally reached its pledging goal to raise money to remove 1 million barrels of oil from the supertanker, donors are yet to pay up on pledges for the first phase of the emergency removal operation to begin.

As world leaders gathering in New York for the UN General Assembly this week, Save the Children is urging the international community to treat the SAFER oil tanker issue as an international emergency and release funds now to prevent this potential disaster from unfolding. The livelihoods of Yemen's fishing communities could be instantly wiped out if the aging FSO Safer, which is in a deep state of decay, leaks or explodes. Millions of people would be exposed to life-threatening hazardous substances.

Kusai, a 55-year-old fisherman from Hodeidah, said:

“The sea of Yemen will be destroyed if the SAFER tanker leaked. Fish will die, the livelihoods of the entire population in Hodeidah will be devastated, water desalination plants will be damaged, everything will be impacted. It will be a major disaster, and it will ruin everything, the sea and the land.” 

Any potential spill could also suspend activities at Hodeidah port, the main point of aid entry for Yemen, denying millions of children from access to lifesaving assistance and crippling the humanitarian response in the most vulnerable regions of the country. It could also impact the desalination plants across the coast of Yemen which would interrupt clean water supply for millions of Yemeni children and their families. 

With winter quickly approaching, aggressive winds and currents will intensify the risk of the ship reaching a breaking point and an oil spill becoming imminent. A failure to act now could result in a major disaster across the entire Red Sea region and will leave a lasting environmental impact that would severely worsen the humanitarian situation in Yemen and other vulnerable neighbouring countries.  

Save the Children’s Country Director for Yemen, Rama Hansraj, said: 

“Children in Yemen have already been put through so much. They’ve been bombed, displaced, and had their rights violated. Many have had their childhood stolen away from them, and their future compromised. However, since the truce agreement came into effect, hope has been temporarily renewed, and a possibility of a bright future began to emerge. Yet, once again, children in Yemen are left to face a new disaster that has the potential to exacerbate the consequences the eight-year war has had on Yemen.”

“Over two thirds of the population already need humanitarian assistance and at least half of the population are food insecure. Cutting whole communities off their only source of income, and the closure of the single most important port in the country could bring the entire country to its knees. Children will fall sick, food and clean drinking water will be scarce, and humanitarian operations will suffer.

“The international community should move now to prevent another disaster that will probably spill beyond Yemen’s borders. While we warmly welcome the commitment by governments, corporates and individuals towards the UN pledging goal, donors must come together and release their funds urgently to start the clean up operations before it’s too late. We have the chance to prevent such a nightmare from happening. However, the time is ticking, and we must respond at once.”  

Save the Children has been working in Yemen since 1963, implementing programmes in education, child protection, health and nutrition, water and sanitation, and emergency response across most of the country. Save the Children has responded to the incident through its child protecting unity covering the medical costs of all cases and providing the needed psychosocial support to the victims and their families, as well as any other specific needs required to strengthen their resilience and shorten the needed time to recover.


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