Boskalis To The Rescue: FSO Safer Update

In August 2020 I wrote about the FSO Safer, an offshore vessel rusting in the Red Sea since 1988, and in danger of spilling over a million barrels of oil. I wrote it under the title ‘under the title Over A Million Barrels Of Oil In A Rusting Hulk In The Red Sea Since 1988’ and you can follow this link to read it.

In April this year I wrote an update noting that the UN plan to offload the oil was foundering for lack of funds. The UN had gone so far as to ask individuals as well as countries to chip in to make up the shortfall. In the face of what stood to be the world’s biggest ecological disaster that could happen right now, immediately, it beggared belief that humanity could not take action to avert it.

Well now there is some positive news. The International Maritime Organisation reports that

On 30 May 2023 Boskalis’ multipurpose support vessel Ndeavor arrived at the site of the FSO SAFER with the salvage team and equipment onboard. Critical work will now start to assess the FSO SAFER, inert the oil tanks and ready the vessel for the oil transfer operation.”

Boskalis itself reports that

After Boskalis’ multipurpose vessel Ndeavor reached its destination offshore Yemen earlier this week, the colleagues of SMIT Salvage were able to board the FSO Safer on Wednesday afternoon. First, gas measurements were taken to assess the presence of toxic gas in and around the vessel. After the ship was declared “safe to access”, a number of operational steps were initiated. This included loading of mobile inert gas generators and conducting inspections of the FSO and its deck machinery as well as structural hull assessments. It is expected that the Ndeavor will soon be able to berth alongside the Safer after which further preparations will continue. 

All good news, but not home and dry yet. And as the IMO also reported

Additional funds are still needed to make up a shortfall in covering the immediate US$142 million cost of the emergency phase of the salvage operation. The second phase of the operation, including the removal and safe recycling of the FSO SAFER, is expected to cost an additional US$19 million.

What Could Still Go Wrong

Not knowing anything about the operation to transfer oil from one vessel to another, I assumed the new vessel would rock up, and offload. Now I understand that first the cargo has to be made safe by removing the risk of explosion from any build-up of gas.

So, US$19 million still short. It’s not pocket money.

Here is an extract from the report on the situation by Dr. Ian Ralby of I R Concilium published Jan 11, 2023

Floating in the Red Sea, attached to an oil pipeline that runs nearly 300 miles to the war-torn city of Marib, the FSO Safer was established as a Yemeni oil export facility in 1988. The massive converted tanker was due to be decommissioned and replaced by a land-based terminal when the Yemen civil conflict erupted nearly eight years ago. Owned by SEPOC, a company which itself is owned by the Government of Yemen, the Safer sits off the coast of Ras Isa, an area controlled by Houthi rebels.

The vessel is still loaded with 1.14 million barrels of oil. While roughly 15,000 barrels have evaporated over the last eight years, and a thin layer has polymerized, the majority of that cargo remains liquid and liable to spill. The portion of the pipeline that runs for five miles beneath the Red Sea has an additional 17,000 barrels of liquid crude in it. Without intervention, the Safer will either explode or corrode and spill its contents – and likely take the pipeline with it.

UPDATE PUBLISHED JUL 25, 2023 BY THE MARITIME EXECUTIVE: …The United Nations with its contractor Boskalis’ SMIT Salvage announced that the oil transfer from the derelict FSO Safer off the coast of Yemen has begun. UN officials said the pipes have been laid and the precautions taken and as of this morning at 10:45 a.m. local time “the pumps are on.”