Yemen | Risk of major pollution after the sinking of a ship loaded with fertilizer

(Aden) The sinking off the coast of Yemen of a ship attacked by Houthi rebels, and loaded with chemical fertilizers, risks causing significant environmental damage in the Red Sea, overwhelming the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula.

Damaged by Yemeni rebel missiles on February 18, a Belizean-flagged cargo ship operated by a Lebanese company sank at dawn on Saturday after being evacuated and abandoned.

The Rubymar was carrying 22,000 tons of ammonium phosphate and sulfate fertilizers, as well as fuels, including 200 tons of fuel oil and 80 tons of diesel, said Abdelsalam al-Jaabi, an expert from the Yemeni Authority. for environmental protection, highlighting the risk of “double pollution”.

Before sinking, the ship had already left behind a slick of fuel 18 nautical miles long, according to the US military.

If the cargo comes into contact with water, thousands of tonnes of toxic products could “spill into the Red Sea and disrupt the balance of marine ecosystems”, warned Greenpeace, calling for an emergency plan to avoid a “major environmental crisis”.

This “could affect species that depend on these ecosystems and have an impact on the livelihoods of coastal communities,” warned the organization’s regional manager Julien Jreissati.

Up to “half a million people” making a living from fishing in the region could be affected, according to Abdelsalam al-Jaabi.

” Ecological disaster ”


Up to “half a million people” making a living from fishing in the region could be affected, according to Abdelsalam al-Jaabi.

The poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen has been gripped by a conflict since 2014 pitting the government against the Houthi rebels.

These insurgents close to Iran have been attacking merchant ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden since November that they consider linked to Israel, saying they are acting in “solidarity” with the Palestinians in the context of the war in Gaza started in october.

Since the United States set up a multinational maritime protection force and carried out, sometimes with the help of the United Kingdom, strikes against its positions in Yemen, the Houthis have also targeted American and British ships.

The Rubymar, which left the United Arab Emirates for Bulgaria, had been presented as a “British ship” by the Houthis.

The US military and the maritime security company Ambrey had also associated it with the United Kingdom, but according to the cargo operator, the Lebanese company Bluefleet, it is registered in the Marshall Islands.

After the attack, the director of Bluefleet, Roy Khoury, said he wanted to tow the Rubymar, but that neither the Yemeni government, nor Djibouti, nor Saudi Arabia, had agreed to welcome it.

The Yemeni Minister of Transport, Abdelsalam Hamid, confirmed that he refused to receive him in the port of Aden, for “fear of an ecological disaster”.

A source close to the presidency in Djibouti, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also claimed to have refused “because of the environmental risk”. The Saudi authorities could not be reached by AFP.

The chairman of the Yemeni Environmental Protection Authority, Faisal al-Thaalbi, however, accused the ship’s operator and owner of not “responding to official letters” and of “being part of the problem”.

The day before the sinking, the maritime security company Ambrey reported an “incident” around the ship, which caused “a number of injuries”, without providing other details.

Worst-case scenario

The boat was attacked when it was 65 kilometers from the Yemeni port of Mokha, before drifting, fueling fears of pollution of Yemen’s coasts.

UN envoy Hans Grundberg announced in an interview on Monday that five experts from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) would travel “within 48 hours” to Yemen to assess the situation.

Local teams have already been dispatched to inspect beaches and take samples, Faisal al-Thaalbi said, expressing concern that “water sources” and “desalination plants” could be affected.

Contamination of the coasts would be the “worst case scenario”, he stressed, but according to him the authorities have floating booms that can be deployed to protect the most sensitive areas.


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