Nautica is a New Environmental Bomb in the Red Sea (Video)

Sheba Intelligence | 2023-09-10 10:24 AM UTC
Nautica is a New Environmental Bomb in the Red Sea (Video)

Photo credit: SMIT and Boskalis Construction company


The United Nations announced on Friday, August 11, the end of the offloading process of oil from the floating tank Safer to the alternative tanker Nautica, "Yemen," near the port of Hodeida in Ras Issa. It said the threat of an oil spill from the Safer reservoir has been safely ended, sparing the region what could have been a massive environmental and humanitarian disaster.


Yemen is one of six countries that were directly threatened by a spill from the decaying Safer oil ship. The explosion of the vessel or oil spill would bring huge losses to the fishing sector, pollute the marine environment, lead to the loss of thousands of jobs, and shut down ports near the oil spill .


 The United Nations said, "The environmental impact on the waters, coral reefs, mangroves, and diverse marine life would be severe. The oil spill could reach the shores of Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia."


UN reports had indicated that the Safer tank had become an environmental time bomb and that the decaying tank contained 1.14 million barrels of oil, worth about $85 million  at current September prices, making it one of the disputed assets between the Houthi movement and the Yemeni government.


The dispute caused the cessation of maintenance and oil offloading, which made the ship a potential danger. That matter prompted the United Nations and a group of countries and donors to purchase the alternative tanker, Nautica, and get the oil transferred from the old vessel. Nauatic was purchased from a European owner for $55 million .


The United Nations announced that it had acquired $121 million from supporters and donors, saying that the amount is insufficient to complete the operation and that It is still looking for support to finish the repair process and re-dispose of the Safer tank.


There are many questions about the effectiveness and suitability of the alternative ship, Nautica, to accommodate the oil transported to it, its environmental assessment, and whether the Red Sea environment is compatible with it. Questions also arise about its specified lifespan and the ecological risks that Nautica could cause. This report aims to answer a critical question: Is Nautica the ideal alternative to the decaying Safer ship?


Safer's systems are better than Nautica's

According to Wikipedia, the salinity of the Red Sea ranges between 36-41% of the global salinity scale, and the humidity in Ras Issa port in Hodeida reaches 63% and is likely to increase in June – August. The temperature in the ports of Hodeida city ranges between 32-43 °C, and the wind speed in some months reaches 3.5 m/s.


Nature Portfolio magazine states these factors affect ship hulls, especially oil and floating ships. These effects lead to the corrosion of ship hulls and the occurrence of sinking and oil leakage accidents. The magazine said that these factors must be taken into account and a set of measures need to be taken to help protect ship hulls. Among these procedures are coating the ship with certain materials, ensuring the quality of the hull, steel, and cathodic insulation, and testing the structures to find if they suit the area for up to a year before the ships begin operating.


A report2 issued by Al-Kharaz Center for Environmental Studies and Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights said that Nautica ship is unqualified to be a suitable alternative to Safer for several reasons. The report explained that the Safer tank is made of thick steel and contains additional cathodic protection and capacity commensurate with the salinity and humidity of Ras Issa port. However, according to the report, Nautica was made of a thinner steel structure and less cathodic solid protection.


Environmental Impact Assessment Expert Professor Abdul Qader Al-Kharraz, one of the authors of the report titled "Replacing the Safer with a Used Nautica Tanker: A Risky Step," says that the environmental conditions in the Ras Issa area are difficult and severe and require a tanker with international standards.


He added, "Although the Safer was dilapidated, it underwent many repairs when it was purchased, and it remained over a year in a dry port in South Korea undergoing repairs to be commensurate with the humidity, salinity, and temperature of the Red Sea and be prepared to work as a floating oil tank. That helped Safer ship endure the Red Sea environment for several years."


However, Nautica was purchased and transported to Djibouti and from there to Hodeida, receiving no adequate assessment. According to Al-Kharaz, Nautica needs a lot of repairs to be fit to operate within the environmental conditions of Ras Issa, which will cost the United Nations exorbitant sums of money through which it could have purchased a new tanker with higher standards. He indicated that Nautica is unfit and may cause an oil spill and environmental disaster.


"Second-hand and Unequipped"

The report indicated that the Safer ship is equipped with better endurance systems, including Single-Point Mooring (SPM) and Side-By-Side (SBS) mooring systems. However, Nautica does not have such systems, the report added.


Making modifications to Nautica would require additional funding, which is not available. Therefore, the mooring of Nautica in the Red Sea is surrounded by substantial environmental concerns, according to the report, which describes this replacement vessel as "second-hand and unequipped".


"Nautica will not endure"

The lifespan of ships operating in the field of oil and chemicals reaches 30 years if these ships work in the field of transportation only, and the age becomes shorter if the ships are transformed into floating tanks. The report said the environmental conditions also play a role in determining the life span. Most countries prevent ships over twenty years old from entering their ports to protect the environment and port infrastructure.


Nautica is now 15 years old, according to the International Maritime Organization, whichmeans only five years remain of the Nautica's life span if it remains in the Red Sea environment and is used as a floating tank. This requires the tanker to be under regular maintenance during the remaining period. Therefore, a lasting solution has not been reached, and worries about oil slips off Yemen are not entirely over.


Abdul Salam Al-Kuri, an associate professor of marine biology, says that the Safer oil transfer process is only a postponement of the problem, not a solution. He added, "Nautica will not endure long in light of the environmental conditions, including the high salinity and high humidity Ras Issa port and Al-Salif area. In addition, its expected lifespan is about to expire, making it more susceptible to corrosion and cracking. Nautica may not endure as Safer did."


Lack of Transparency

Another dark side related to Nautica was the process of its purchase. The United Nations did not announce a tender or announcement stating the mechanism and procedures for purchasing the tanker. Instead, according to Al-Kharaz, the tanker was offered for sale for $53 million, and it could have been purchased according to quality and lifespan standards at $40 million.


However, the United Nations announced that it had purchased it from the owner for $55 million. That matter sparked many questions about the tanker's quality and whether it could carry out its function to the fullest extent. Al-Kharaz added that the process of purchasing the tanker is far from transparent, a point that is at odds  with what the UN calls for. The purchase of Nautica is an example of the corruption of the United Nations in Yemen, according to Al-Kharaz.


Therefore, countries on both sides of the Red Sea are still experiencing fears of an oil leak in the port of Ras Issa. The collapse possibility of the Safer and Nautica still exists, and this puts the coastal countries' citizens, millions of Yemeni fishermen and those whose work is linked to the sea in danger, let alone the long-term environmental impact.


Will the oil transferred from the dilapidated Safer to the unreliable Nautica be disposed of by selling it? Or will the costly and temporary solutions to a serious problem threatening the Red Sea environment continue?