June 8, 2022

Iran and the Houthis Hold the Gulf Hostage With Environmental Terrorism

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by Farhad Rezaei, Senior Research Fellow

If the millions of gallons of oil on the FSO Safer cause a catastrophe in Yemen’s waters, it will be the fault of the Houthis and their masters in Tehran alone.

The fate of a rusting oil tanker anchored off the coast of Yemen will be decided by the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose local proxy seems content to oversee the largest environmental catastrophe in history. If the FSO Safer does indeed break apart, as experts fear it will, forty-eight million gallons of petroleum will spill into the Red Sea, destroying a vibrant ecosystem along with hundreds of thousands of jobs. And the ayatollahs will be to blame.

The ship is the property of the Yemeni state-owned oil company Safer Exploration & Production Operation Company (SEPOC). SEPOC used the tanker as a floating storage station until 2014, when the Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized Hodeidah and, in March 2015, captured the Safer and other SEPOC assets, including its $110 million operating budget. Since then, the old vessel has languished under Houthi control, unmaintained and leaking oil. Experts have described the Safer as a “floating bomb.”

An explosion or break-up of the old vessel would deal a massive blow to the local environment, destroying coral reefs along with the 600 species of fish and invertebrates that live around them. The disaster would also affect 31,500 fishermen and 235,000 others who work in fishing-related industries. The pollution would imperil the health and livelihoods of millions and would likely shut down Hodeidah, Yemen’s main entry point, which is already teetering on famine. The expected cost of the cleanup is nearly $20 billion, which is equal to Yemen’s entire annual GDP.