By: Ken Wheatley, Royal Security Group LLC
August 7, 2021
About 5 miles off the coast of Yemen, sitting between the cities of Al Hudaydah (Hoedeida) to the South and Salif to the North, sits the floating oil storage and off-loading vessel (FSO) Safer, which is a very ironic name given the environmental and global supply chain disaster that many feel is imminent. The ship is connected to Yemen via an undersea pipeline to the Ras Isa oil terminal.
FSO Safer, a supertanker, had been in service since 1988, when Ronald Reagan was President. But since 2015 the 1,188 foot iron vessel that's carrying about 1.14 millions barrels, or 47.9 million gallons of Marib Light crude oil onboard in 34 oil tanks has been dead in the water. It's trapped between a country at war that's blocking access to the ship and the international community that's desperate to head-off an environmental disaster that would eclipse the 1989 Alaska oil spill of the Exxon Valdez by 4x's. The Safer is rusting away and hasn't been properly serviced since 2015.
According to an article in the May 24, 2021 issue of Time Magazine, A Catastrophe Waiting to Happen by Joseph Hincks, the Safer's sea chest valves have rusted and can't be completely shut. (A sea chest is an enclosure on the ship that's open to the sea. The valve is needed to seal the ship from the sea so the filter can be cleaned or maintenance can be performed on the line or other systems that are connected to the chest.)
Hincks further writes that the fire extinguishing system also doesn't work. That matters because corroded seals may be allowing oxygen to accumulate in the oil tanks and mix with the volatile crude fumes. A spark would be the only thing missing to create a massive explosion.
In 2014, the Shi'ite Houthi's started a civil war in Yemen that is still being fought 7 years later. And the Houthi's have been holding the ship hostage as a bargaining tool in their negotiations and preventing anyone from boarding the ship to do repairs or to off-load the crude oil to prevent a disaster.
So, why should businesses in the U.S. care about the fate of the FSO Safer - a situation that's over 8,000 miles from the U.S.? Beyond the potential for horrific environmental and human impacts, it's because of what we went through, and in many cases are still going through, with the pandemic and supply chain disruptions.
If there's a fire onboard the Safer, according to Hincks' article, 5.9 million people in Yemen and 1 million more in Saudi Arabia would be exposed to very high air pollution levels overwhelming an already taxed health care system.
Yemen is on the precipice of famine. With 90% of their food being imported through the main port of Hodeida, a spill would shut the port down for up to 3 months.
According to Gulf States Analytics, 50% of Saudi Arabia's water comes from desalination. They are the largest producers of desalinated water in the world with 27 plants spanning 13 locations along the Red Sea. That's the same body of water that the Safer is sitting in. A spill would require shutting down the affected plants.
Israel relies on 5 desalination plants to provide 75% of their water needs. In 2017, according to Sue Surkes with The Times of Israel, an oil leak of "only" 100,000 liters (26,417 gallons) shutdown 3 of the 5 plants for 3 days.
As for the supply chain, depending on the time of year, the oil spill could flow north, towards Israel and the Suez Canal where 12% of global trade flows, or south, toward the Bar el Mandeb strait and into the Gulf of Aden, threatening Eritrea and Djibouti to the west of the Red Sea along the way. An oil spill of millions of gallons would deprive millions of people from getting food and/or drinking water. Or water for manufacturing. Or refineries.
According to Raphael Veicht, the Deputy Head of Mission for Doctors Without Borders in Yemen, "there is no visible mitigation taking place along the Red Sea coast. There is no preparation, no contingency planning, no protectives measured going on at all."
If you didn't chart the details of your supply chain to understand where your key suppliers are and the routes your shipments take, now would be a good time to do that research and adjust your business continuity, crisis management and risk management plans accordingly. It's also a good time to consider diversifying your supplier base to spread the risk of disruption.
Use think link to access the live article.