New research published today in Frontiers in Marine Science by an international collaboration of scientists urges for the removal of an inactive tanker called the Safer. The Safer sits in the Red Sea and holds roughly a million barrels of oil in storage, but its decaying state concerns scientists who say that a spill is inevitable – but avoidable.
The policy brief is published under the title "A Closing Window of Opportunity to Save a Unique Marine Ecosystem" and was led by Stony Brook University’s Karine Kleinhaus, MD, MPH. Dr. Kleinhaus, who is an Associate Professor of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), says:
"The time is now to prevent a potential devastation to the region's waters and the livelihoods and health of millions of people living in half a dozen countries along the Red Sea's coast. If a spill from the Safer is allowed to occur, the oil would spread via ocean currents to devastate a global ocean resource, as the coral reefs of the northern Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba are projected to be among the last reef ecosystems in the world to survive the coming decades."
The quantity of oil held on the Safer is approximately quadruple that of the amount of oil that the Exxon Valdez tanker spilled in 1989. The Safer is currently controlled by Yemen's Houthis.
There is concern that seepage has already begun from the Safer. Although it has been abandoned for five years, the tanker is degrading and oil spots have been seen in the surrounding waters. Were an oil spill to occur, the region’s coral reefs would likely not survive. The Red Sea is home to corals that live in warmer water temperatures than other corals around the world, meaning they may be some of the only corals with the resiliency to adapt to climate change. The reefs host thriving native fisheries that many people depend on for subsistence.
The paper highlights how oil would spread through the water if a leak were to occur. Using computational models, the research team showed that due to seasonal ocean currents, were a spill to occur in the winter, the oil would disperse much further and cause much more degradation than it would if a spill were to occur during the summer months.
The authors write this paper as a call to action, given that no tangible steps have yet to be taken to address the threat. They write: "Emergent action must be taken by the UN and its International Maritime Organization to address the threat of the Safer, despite political tensions, as a spill will have disastrous environmental and humanitarian consequences, especially if it occurs during winter. With millions of barrels of oil, a day passing through the Red Sea, a regional strategy must be drafted for leak prevention and containment that is specific to the Red Sea's unique ecosystems, unusual water currents, and political landscape."
Sources: Frontiers in Marine Science, Eureka Alert