The Netherlands are trying to avert a looming environmental disaster in Yemen – Yemen – Advice Eating

Dutch ambassador to Yemen, Peter Derrek Hof, works with the United Nations to prevent an environmental disaster involving an old oil tanker. On May 10, the UN will host a rare donors’ conference to raise the $80 million needed to dismantle the FSO Safer at the port of Ras Isa. The success of this effort over the coming months will depend on the willingness of the Houthi rebels to work together. “As a neutral country in this matter, the Netherlands has good relations with all parties in Yemen.”

“The greatest humanitarian catastrophe at the moment” and “possibly the greatest oil leak in many years” – Peter Derrek Hof has to resort to superlatives to characterize the situation in Yemen. He has been the Dutch ambassador to the Middle Eastern country for a year and a half, but never in Yemen itself. Embassies in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, have been closed for years. The various parties to the conflict have made it necessary to open embassy offices abroad. Diplomats are working from Riyadh, Amman, Muscat and other locations in the region.

Recently, Hof was finally able to visit Sana’a. The capital is in a part of the country controlled by Houthi rebels. “There are a couple of UN flights a week that are purely humanitarian in nature.”

The UN hopes to raise $80 million this week through a donors’ conference that will also include the Netherlands. The money is needed to offload more than 1.14 million barrels of oil from the old tanker.

The rusty tanker Hof went to Yemen with a mission. Near the port of Ras Isa lies an old, rusting tanker called the FSO Safer, which contains over a million barrels of oil. The tank truck has not been serviced for years.

“The engine room has been flooded before. If the tanker sinks, explodes or leaks, around 140,000 tons of oil will flow into the Red Sea, with catastrophic consequences for people and the environment.” If this happens, various fish species and coral reefs will be wiped out and 126,000 Yemeni fishermen will lose their livelihood. The UN estimates that around 30 million people in the Red Sea area will be affected by a disaster of this magnitude.

Hof was accompanied on his trip by representatives of a Dutch company that can transfer the oil to a safer tanker. They were not allowed to visit the tanker; it could only be seen from a distance. Discussions are ongoing with a number of parties, including the Houthis, to gain approval for this salvage operation.

That sounds easier than it is, says Ambassador Hof. “The UN is now finalizing its plan, with input from us and others. Then we have to find the funds.” That will cost 80 million dollars, which the UN wants to raise this week through a donors’ conference in which the Netherlands will also take part.

guarantees

The rusty tanker in Yemen is a political story. When war broke out in 2015, FSO Safer fell into the hands of the Houthis, the rebel groups now ruling Yemen. Unless these Houthi rebels can provide permits or guarantees, there is no way to secure the tanker and the oil. That’s the hardest part of the whole mission, says Hof. “I am confident that the oil can be pumped out of the tanker by the end of the year. But it’s a tricky business.”

It is no coincidence that Hof is so actively involved in this great challenge in Yemen. The Netherlands is the only country that has actively supported development projects in Yemen over the past 44 years. After the start of the civil war, many countries focused exclusively on humanitarian aid.

“The Netherlands does both, and that’s also the work that the embassy continues to do,” says Hof. “We work with local collaborators in Yemen who are doing a great job under very difficult circumstances. As the Federal Foreign Office, we have a duty to look after our local employees. Considering the situation there, what they are doing is nothing short of incredible. In addition to humanitarian aid, we also carry out projects in the areas of water, security, human rights and women’s rights. The Netherlands has an extensive development program in Yemen that focuses on issues such as water, security and justice, human rights and gender. Thanks to this work, many Yemenis know the Netherlands. I met many people who knew our country and spoke kindly about it because of our projects and our ongoing involvement there. Even the warring factions see us as a positive force in Yemen.”

“We are working as hard as we can with the UN to ensure that the tanker can be towed away empty, thus preventing an environmental disaster.”

An emotional encounter

For Hof, it was an inspiring and emotional encounter with the country where he has been an ambassador for a year and a half. “I found it very moving to meet our local employees in Sana’a and see how they live. At the gas stations in Sana’a, the queues can stretch for miles. It can take days to fill up your tank – people sleep in their cars to keep their place in line. There is lack of everything; and yet the people are so hospitable and resilient.’

“Everywhere in Sana’a you see murals and graffiti in the color green, the color of the Houthis. But I could see the beauty of the city with its extraordinary architecture over all the misery and destruction. The walk inland through the mountains was also magical. This country has so much beauty and potential, but for the last eight years people have been forced to live in such terrible hardship.’

Hof not only visited Sana’a, but also Ras Isa and Hodeida, not far from the front. It’s quite a dangerous place because the area is littered with landmines laid by the warring factions. “There were a large number of victims, including women and children.”

Hof is not optimistic about Yemen’s future. “I’m always hopeful, but when you see the extent of the devastation, it’s hard to stay that way. This is such a complex conflict and there is no obvious solution.’ Hopefully there will be a solution for FPO Safer Tanker in the near future. “We are working as hard as we can with the UN to ensure that the tanker can be towed away empty, thus preventing an environmental disaster.”

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