Environmental Consequences of Red Sea Military Escalation

Sheba Intelligence | 2024-02-24 04:13 PM UTC


A Belize-flagged ship has caused an 18-mile (29-kilometer) oil slick in the Red Sea, causing serious concerns about an environmental disaster amid rising escalations between the U.S. forces and Yemen's Ansar Allah (Houthi) group.

The oil slick from the Rubymar, a British-registered, Lebanese-operated cargo vessel, happened after a Houthi missile attack hit the ship on February 18 when it was sailing through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait that connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.


The attack forced the crew to flee, and no injuries were reported. However, the ship sustained significant damage, causing an oil spill which risks creating an environmental threat.


Today, the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement, "The M/V Rubymar was transporting over 41,000 tons of fertilizer when it was attacked, which could spill into the Red Sea and worsen this environmental disaster."


The statement said such an attack threatens the fishing industry, coastal communities, and imports of food supplies. Images from Planet Labs PBC of the attacked vessel have shown that the vessel was leaking oil in the Red Sea.


Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak, the Aden-based Prime Minister in Yemen's UN-recognized government, ordered today the formation of an emergency committee from the concerned authorities to deal with the environmental crisis Rubymar has caused.


 The Yemeni government has called for other countries and maritime protection organizations to quickly address the oil slick and avert "a significant environmental disaster". According to the government statement,  the vessel is heading toward the Yemeni Hanish Islands in the southern Red Sea.


Amin Al-Hammadi, the Director General of Environmental Planning and Information at the General Authority for Environmental Protection in Yemen, said that pollution is still threatening Yemeni territorial waters, and environmental threats are continuing to escalate due to continuing risks of oil or chemical leakage from ships passing through the Bab al-Mandab Strait, given the ongoing military operations at sea.


Al-Hammadi indicated Yemen's distinct ecosystem and biological diversity are now threatened by oil and chemical pollution and oil spills, which cause the death of marine life and the lack of sunlight reaching the internal sea environment, which affects marine organisms and their environmentally balanced food chain.


The pollution also threatens the fish wealth in Yemen, where fishermen, a large segment of Yemeni society, depend on it for a living. According to Al-Hammadi, the loss of work in fishing will contribute to deepening poverty and unemployment.


Meanwhile, CENTCOM said in a statement it launched attacks on Houthi-held areas in Yemen on Friday, destroying seven mobile anti-ship cruise missiles that were prepared to launch toward the Red Sea. It indicated the missiles "presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and to the U.S. Navy ships in the region."


Houthi-run media confirmed the American strikes, reporting that raids by "U.S. and the U.K. aggression" hit Al-Durayhimi district and Ras Issa in Al-Hudaydah.


The U.S. strikes have been ongoing since January 12, seeking to counter the Houthi attacks and degrade the group's military capabilities.


The Houthi group has been targeting ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, where Israel has killed over 28000 people since October last year.


With the continued attacks, shipping in the Red Sea has been disrupted, and now environmental dangers are rising. Houthis say regardless of the consequences, their operations will stop when the Israeli war on Gaza ends.