Bringing the Ocean to Society
27 Aug 2019
Imminent environmental catastrophe off Yemen can be minimized
Marine pollution geointelligence tools are available to estimate impact of a potential 1.1 million barrels' oil spill.

A floating storage and offloading (FSO) terminal less than five miles off the coast of Yemen has turned into a massive bomb — capable of explosion due to its contents and lack of maintenance. The risk of explosion increases by the day, and if that were to happen, not only would it damage or sink any ships in the vicinity, but it would create an environmental crisis roughly four and a half times the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The deserted FSO SAFER oil tanker that is currently anchored off the coast of war-torn Yemen has the potential to create an environmental disaster.

The imminent environmental catastrophe scenario requires urgent rescue operation. In case of an oil spill, about 1.1 million barrels of crude oil are expected to reach marine and coastal resources. Nearby desalination water plants are also threatened and millions of people risk to lose access to drinking water.

According to the International Spill Control Organization, the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) is ready to depart to FSO SAFER for preliminary evaluation. 

An oil spill hazard map was devised to support the initial UNOPS work. The assessment relies on about 150 simulated spill scenarios considering realistic meteo-oceanographic conditions of the last 4 years. Qualitative probability maps show the preferential oil path off the Yemeni coast 24, 48 and 72h after the spill. Potentially impacted areas include the Yemeni governorates of Al Hudaydah and Hajjah. 

Significant volume of oil is likely to remain at sea for dozens of days. Impacts on the Yemeni coast could be extended, potentially reaching the Saudi Arabian border and impacting the maritime transport through the Suez Canal. Navigation in the canal would be halt for as long as the spill lasts.

The oil spill hazard map is part of an innovative Marine Pollution Geointelligence initiative. The Integrated Ocean Tracking Solutions consortium (IOTS) believes that the environmental disaster can be minimized with appropriate marine pollution geointelligence. The product is part of an innovative IOTS oil spill product on integrated planning, orbital monitoring and response.  IOTS is a consortium formed by three companies: Marine Pollution Prevention & Preparation SA (ecogerster.wixsite.com), SeaPulse (www.seapulse.pt) and OrbitalEOS (www.orbitaleos.com). For further info, iots@seapulse.pt.