Remarks by the Spokesperson of the United Nations' Secretary-General on Safer

25 Nov 2020

Remarks by the Spokesperson of the United Nations' Secretary-General on Safer

Noon Briefing of 24 November 2020

And turning to Yemen, and the issue of the FSO Safer oil tanker, which we have been talking about for some time now.  And I can tell you that we have now received an official letter from the de facto Ansar Allah authorities on Saturday indicating their approval for the UN proposal for the planned expert mission to the tanker.  This, as you know, has followed several weeks of constructive technical exchanges on the activities that will be undertaken by the expert team; it represents an important step forward in this critical work.  The objective of the UN-led expert mission is to assess the vessel and undertake initial light maintenance, as well as to formulate recommendations on what further action is required to neutralize the risk of an oil spill.

Now that the UN proposal for the expert mission has been agreed, mission planning will immediately pivot towards deployment preparations.  This includes procurement of necessary equipment, entry permits for all [mission] staff, agreement of a work-order system onboard and logistical planning.  The de facto authorities have assured us that they will provide all the necessary facilitation to ensure that the expert team can deploy as quickly as possible.

We want to express our appreciation for the support and cooperation received to date from all parties, including the de facto authorities in Sana’a and the Government of Yemen.  We look forward to working with all stakeholders to make this critical mission a success and to start work as soon as possible.

Question:  Hi, Stéphane. You gave us a readout of the Houthi's green‑lighting UN access to the Safer oil tanker. Am I right in thinking that the Houthis have given a similar green light in the past and it didn't materialise? And if that is the case, what's different this time around? 

 Spokesman:  No. This is a significant step forward; right? We've had, in the past, a kind of an intention of saying yes, but there have been different steps. This was... these were technical talks about how this is going to work.  

 It was... if I recall correctly, it had been a broad permission... broad statement of saying, yes, you can come and do what you need to do on the tanker, but we need to figure out the technical modalities; right? And, so, this is a further step in the right direction.  

 Now, obviously, we still have to work out the exact deployment timeline, because it's going to depend on the market availability of the required equipment, the required staff, which now needs to be procured, the shipping times and... because some of the material will have to come by sea. Others can be shipped in. Technicians are going to have to be hired.  

Now, our colleagues at UNOPS (United Nations Office for Project Services) have under their belt the market analysis already, so they know where to get the material. They know where to get the people, but these timelines need to be worked out. I think if everything comes together, we would expect the mission staff and the equipment to arrive on site by late January or early February. 


 Question:  Okay. Staying with the Houthis and the Safer tanker, I am a little amazed that we've been told for years that this was an imminent environmental disaster. And now, after all of this hard work and diplomacy by Martin Griffiths and others to get access, it's going to take until the end of January to procure the right equipment and the right personnel. Surely, the UN had all of this arranged, everything on tap, ready, the people, all ready to go, because as we were told this was an imminent environmental disaster. 

 Spokesman:  Well, on that, a couple of points that need to be made. We cannot spend the donor money until there was a plan that was approved, which is now. We have a market feasibility study, so we know where everything is, but we cannot spend a penny on getting the equipment and the personnel, which you can imagine is very technical. The kind of equipment you need is not stuff you can pick up at Home Depot or your local DIY store. 

 So, the time frame was always that, that we have the market study. We know where to get things.  

 Some of these parts are going to have to be shipped by sea. That takes some time. Tugboats are going to have to be leased. We were not able... and we cannot spend donor money on... for example, on leasing a tugboat for eight months or six months while we waited for the permissions. That's just not how the process works in terms of how we are able to work and to spend the money. So, we are... everything was, indeed, lined up, and we're working as fast as possible.