Science | March 25, 2022 4:06 pm

Oh Great, There’s a Massive Oil Spill Waiting to Happen off the Coast of Yemen!

A decaying tanker off the coast of Yemen is a waiting “environmental calamity”

oil tanker at sea
A decaying oil tanker could cause an environmental disaster.
Nearmap via Getty

In case you weren’t doom-scrolling enough, there’s something else you can be keeping a terrified eye on. 

Scientists have warned that a decaying oil tanker off the coast of Yemen is at risk of spilling more than a million barrels of oil into the ocean. The tanker has been anchored off the coast since 2015, when the town closest to it was taken over by Houthi militants during Yemen’s ongoing civil war. 

In a piece for CNN, Christopher Reddy, one of the scientists sounding the alarm about the tanker, said that if the tanker causes a spill, it would be an “environmental calamity,” worse than the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989. “In addition to the harm caused to aquatic life, many of its worst impacts would directly affect people,” Reddy said, noting the fisheries people in the area are dependent on for food and their livelihoods, as well as create toxic fumes that could easily cause sickness. 

The location of the tanker itself could assist in making a potential oil spill even worse. Reddy writes that “Instead of the cold, confined waters of southeast Alaska, which helped contain and congeal oil from the Exxon Valdez, the warm waters of the Red Sea, create a vastly different scenario — one in which the oil from the Safer could spread for hundreds of miles.” The oil itself, a light crude oil, could be impossible to contain once spilled. 

The current plan, supported by the Houthi militants, is to have the oil barrels on the tanker moved to an operational ship by the UN. Whether the UN will act quickly enough is to be determined: earlier this year another oil tanker exploded and sank off of the coast of Nigeria. 

Reddy did not mince words about how dire the situation could be: “most ominously, the vessel is at risk of igniting into a waterborne fireball that could erupt with massive explosive force, wreaking even more potential ecological devastation.”