Group: Yemen rebels should be sanctioned over moored tanker

CAIRO (AP) — A leading international rights group on Monday urged the U.N. Security Council to impose additional sanctions on Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels unless they provide U.N. experts access to an oil tanker moored off the coast of Yemen and in danger of leaking.

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The FSO Safer is loaded with 1.1 million barrels of crude. The Houthi rebels, who control the area, have denied U.N. inspectors access to the vessel.

The U.N. warned earlier this month of an environmental, economic and humanitarian catastrophe from the ship, which hasn’t been maintained for over five years. Experts fear the tanker could explode or leak, causing massive environmental damage to Red Sea marine life.

Human Rights Watch says the impact of an oil spill on livelihoods, access to water and food, and on fuel prices could significantly exacerbate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis. An oil spill could also shut down the port of Hodeida, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis who depend on commercial imports and humanitarian aid.

The tanker “threatens to destroy entire ecosystems and demolish the livelihoods of millions of people already suffering from Yemen’s war,” said Gerry Simpson, associate crisis and conflict director at HRW.

Internal documents obtained by The Associated Press last month show that seawater has entered the engine compartment of the tanker, causing damage to pipes and increasing the risk of sinking. Rust has covered parts of the tanker and the inert gas that prevents the tanks from gathering inflammable gases, has leaked out. Experts say maintenance is no longer possible because the damage to the ship is irreversible, according to an AP report June 26.

The Houthis have signaled they would approve a U.N. mission to the ship, but so far, that hasn't happened. Human Rights Watch also urged Iran to encourage the rebels to cooperate.

The rebels control western Yemen’s Red Sea ports, including Ras Issa, located 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from where the Japanese-built tanker has been moored since the 1980s, when it was sold to the Yemeni government.

In the conflict in Yemen, the Houthis are at war with the internationally recognized government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition and the United States.