Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The White Swan off Yemen

Civil wars are nasty and unpredictable things. The longer they go, the more the thin veneer of civilization starts to strip away for even the most advanced nations and their people. Less advanced nations devolve to Madmaxistan rather quickly.

All governmental efforts, money, and attention goes towards weapons, food, and fuel. Industries, infrastructure, and parts of civil society that do not support that get left as if frozen in aspic.

If you don't live in a nation suffering that civil war, it is easy not to pay attention to that which does not effect you.

There is one aspect of the Yemen civil war that no one should ignore - and it is at sea.

This isn't a disaster that anyone can state will be a surprise in the likely event nothing is done in time and it reaches its ultimate end. This isn't a "Black Swan" - this is a White Swan.

In a real world version of "Life After People" there is a ticking timebomb off of Yemen. Via Maritime-Executive;

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. 

Of note, Safer is a single hulled old-school tanker just rotting in the water. There is little to any margin of error left.

What could the results of inaction be?

For context, the amount of oil spilled off Mauritius (which destroyed an entire marine protected area) was 8,450 barrels. This is less than one percent of what is at stake with the Safer, and less than half of what is in the subsea pipeline. And while the Ever Given disrupted trade through the Suez Canal for six days, some projections suggest the Safer's spill could slow or stop trade through the entire Red Sea for weeks or even months, forcing ships to divert around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid spreading the oil by sailing through it.

The combined risks of a massive explosion, the blockage of international commerce, and a devastating oil spill form only part of the concern with the FSO Safer.  Add in the deaths of millions of people (already in famine) from loss of drinking water, caused by the contamination of desalination plants, and limited access to food caused by the blocking of Hodeida, and we will have a humanitarian emergency at a level the world cannot currently sustain. 

Furthermore, with the annihilation of the world’s most temperature-resistant coral system along with 10 unique species of fish, and the long-term damage to economic activities like fishing and tourism, the effects of this one vessel’s demise would be felt for generations. The potential consequences dwarf the various other maritime disasters experienced in the last few years. 

Usually when there is a cause for international action it is either military related or the disaster has already happened. 

This looks to be a space where those maritime nations who are hesitant to get involved militarily to maintain the global order, make a lot of noise about being "green," and generally make long speeches at the UN about such issues ... well ... they could take action.

The UN even has a "Go Fund Me" like pledge drive going to raise enough funds to get a cheap fix instead of an expensive clean up. I'm not sure if you get a tote-bag or not, but...I mean, really...this is embarrassing.

So much time and money spent on imaginary or exaggerated threats to the environment are flooded with billions of dollars, but a real one has to beg for scraps?

I'm pretty sure a fraction of the money spent at the latest Davos gathering by the WEF would have covered the cost, but there would be no power to be gained and the skiing in terrible in Yemen, so I guess not.

Time is ticking. 

h/t E.

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