New York, 3 June 2021
Thank you, Mr. President.
Over the past two years, Under-Secretary-General Lowcock has briefed the Security Council 23 times on the SAFER tanker, including at a dedicated session like this one last July.
With 23 briefings behind us, progress – needless to say – has been much slower than anyone would have wanted.
In the past, we have explained what we think the likely impact of a spill or explosion might be in detail – that is, a dire environmental and humanitarian situation. That assessment hasn’t changed and so I won’t repeat it here today.
We’ve also updated you every month on the UN efforts to gain access to the SAFER vessel. There is not much more new to say here either. The bottom line is that, so far, no mission has been allowed to deploy.
That’s mostly because the Ansar Allah authorities, while always agreeing to a mission in principle, have been reluctant to provide the concrete assurances needed to proceed.
The UN wrote to Ansar Allah two months ago to clarify exactly what is needed for the mission to deploy. Project donors sent a similar letter, and several Member States have been raising it directly as well. Over the last 10 days, there have also been extensive discussions to try to bridge the remaining gaps.
But so far these efforts have not succeeded. The main sticking point seems to be what, exactly, the UN mission will do and – more specifically – why the United Nations cannot agree more in terms of repairs.
Mr. President, as we’ve said before, the SAFER is a dangerous site. It has had essentially no maintenance for more than six years. From what we can gather, the physical structure is degrading; the underlying systems don’t work; and there is a good chance flammable gases are building up in some places.
But because the UN has never been allowed to visit the site, we do not know exactly what the conditions are like onboard. That means it’s impossible to say in advance exactly what activities can safely be performed.
That is why also the main purpose of the UN’s mission has always been to assess the vessel’s condition. Experts need to verify what we’re dealing with and assess what can be done safely. The assessment will provide impartial evidence on the options to resolve the problem once and for all.
During the mission, the experts will also do some light maintenance to minimize the immediate risk of a spill, which we hope will buy more time. A formal scope of work document – available on the UN website – outlines exactly what the UN team wants to do in terms of maintenance, provided the conditions onboard and in the surrounding environment make it safe enough to do so.
As we have told you, Ansar Allah at the time accepted the scope of work back in November. However, it now seems they are unhappy with this.
The UN focus on assessment may seem frustrating, given that everyone wants to see the problem solved right away. And of course, the world would certainly welcome whatever path can move as quickly as possible towards a safe, sustainable solution.
For a UN-led mission, that path starts with a comprehensive, impartial assessment. As we have said before, the UN has no preference on how the problem is ultimately solved so long as it’s done safely.
So, Mr. President, where do we go from here?
The UN expert team remains ready to deploy, as they have been for the last two years. The UN will keep that team on standby for as long as we have donor funding to do so. Some of those funds, however, will start running out soon, so we hope things will start moving much, much faster.
If all the assurances come through, it will still take several weeks for the UN to rent the mission vessels, ship all the specialized equipment, deploy the experts and sail to the SAFER from Djibouti. The sooner all the discussions wrap up, the sooner all this can start.
In parallel, as you’ve heard from the Executive Director [Inger Andersen, UN Environment Programme], there is also work under way to support the contingency planning. Thank you to UNEP, IMO and others for supporting those important efforts.
Mr. President, the UN remains eager to help as best we can, in line with everything I’ve just described.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.