Arab countries urge UN to inspect decaying oil tanker off Yemen's coast
Several Arab countries have called on the UN to pressure Yemen's Houthi rebels into allowing the world body to inspect a decaying oil tanker moored off the country's coast, warning that it may explode and cause "widespread environmental damage" to the Red Sea region.
The Safer oil tanker has been docked 60km (37 miles) north of Yemen's port city of Hodeidah since the late 1980s, but has not been in use since the Houthis seized the region in 2015.
Amid a lack of maintenance and breakdown of crude inside the vessel, the UN has repeatedly warned that there is a risk of a chemical explosion.
In August, when a UN team attempted to access the tanker, the rebels blocked them, demanding revenue from the sale of oil aboard the vessel as a precondition for the inspection.
The Safer may hold as many as 1.1 million barrels of oil, which could be worth more than $60m.
In a letter sent to the UN Security Council on Thursday, the UN ambassadors for Yemen's exiled government, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan and Sudan warned that a leak or explosion could be "four times worse" than the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 in Alaska.
The countries said that an explosion would not only bring more hardships to three million people in Yemen's Hodeidah, but 40 percent of nearby agricultural land would be "covered with black clouds, which would result in the elimination of grains, fruits, and vegetables".
"It could increase fuel prices by 800 percent and double the price of food and goods, resulting in more economic challenges for the people of Yemen," the letter read.
Yemen's internationally recognised government has been fighting the Houthi movement since 2015, when the rebels took over the country's capital Sanaa.
The ongoing war has devastated Yemen, with about 80 percent of the population - 24 million people - requiring some form of humanitarian or protective assistance, according to UNOCHA.
Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the United Arab Emirates, have been major backers of the ousted Yemeni government.
The government's coalition has accused Iran of arming its Houthi rivals, a charge both Tehran and the rebels deny.