If you haven’t read this piece in The New Yorker, then you need to. There’s a literal fossil fuel bomb that could go off and kill millions. The New Yorker published an alarming article about it and I agree that we should be alarmed.
To recap, there is a vessel, F.S.O Safer (pronounced Saffer, but ironic nonetheless) that had been redesigned into a floating-storage-and-off-loading facility. This made it the terminus of a pipeline that started at the Marib oil fields and continued westward across the mountains and five miles of seafloor.
The ship has been moored there and has been decaying over time. It’s on the verge of collapse and there are over a million barrels of oil stored in its tanks. To paint a visual representation, the article noted that the Exxon Valdez spilled about a quarter of that volume when it ran aground in Alaska in 1989.
The vessel is 45 years old and was not properly maintained, with the exception of a skeleton crew of seven. This is due to political unrest in the area. The article pointed this out, clearly noting that in 2014, the Houthis, one of Yemen’s powerful clans, launched a coup and the conflict is still ongoing. Prior to the coup and ongoing war, the Yemeni state-run firm that owned the ship spent around $20 million annually on maintaining the vessel.
The ship is now considered dead — meaning that it has no power. It died in 2017 and two diesel generators on deck are providing electricity for basic needs. However, the oil that is stored needs to have inert gases pumped into the tanks to neutralize the extremely flammable hydrocarbons that rise off the oil. This is called “inerting” and the power for this was provided by the boilers, which are no longer working.
Former Safer Exploration & Production Operations Company (SEPOC) head Ahmed Kulaib described the vessel to the author as a “bomb.” What’s worse is that it is believed that the Houthis have laid mines in the waters around the vessel, and if this is true, no one knows the exact locations of the explosives.
The world has a potential ticking time bomb of a disaster on its hands. The ship could be accidentally exploded by one of the mines or the hydrocarbons that are no longer neutralized can be set off.
The article is a must-read and I suggest you go read it.
Featured photo by Ave Calvar on Unsplash
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