Oil Spill Averted When Man Crowdsourced To Have Derelict Oil Tanker Removed From The Sea


Off the coast of Yemen, there lay a decaying oil tanker, the FSO Safer, perilously carrying over a million barrels of crude oil, poised on the brink of a disastrous spill into the Red Sea. It was an imminent ecological crisis that could have been averted thanks to the resolute efforts of an American diplomat.

Recently completed in the summer, this salvage mission acted as a crucial barrier against a potential environmental catastrophe. The FSO Safer, a 47-year-old vessel, teetered on the edge of mechanical and structural failure.

Stepping into the role of an unsung hero, David Gressly, a United Nations envoy, masterminded a last-ditch cleanup operation by raising the substantial funds required through crowdfunding. Gressly seized a unique opportunity during a ceasefire between opposing factions in Yemen, the very nation where the FSO Safer had been abandoned offshore in 2015 amidst the outbreak of conflict. This ceasefire provided a brief window of opportunity to address the looming environmental crisis that threatened the entire region.

While the oil technically belonged to the Yemeni state, the question of who truly represented the country remained unresolved. Following a peace agreement reached in May 2022, Gressly embarked on an ambitious campaign to secure $144 million in funding. This financial endeavor aimed to acquire a new tanker and contract a salvage company to safely drain the oil from the deteriorating vessel and bring the colossal tanker back to shore.

Gressly recognized that the volume of oil at stake far exceeded that of the barrels spilled during the infamous Exxon Valdez incident. As the UN Resident Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, he persevered in his relentless pursuit of funding over several arduous months.

“If we had a major oil spill there, we would have probably raised a billion dollars in a month—because there are mechanisms for governments to do just that,” Gressly said when he spoke to The Guardian.

David Gressly

After government and private sector contributions fell short of the required amount, Gressly expanded the fundraising efforts to encompass citizens worldwide. Anyone with even a single dollar to spare was welcomed to participate in achieving this admittedly ambitious objective.

Remarkably, by September 2022, the campaign had amassed $75 million, which constituted more than half of the total needed. This impressive achievement was predominantly propelled by individual contributions, ranging from Yemeni entrepreneurs to American schoolchildren. As of July this year, when the campaign reached $121 million, the United Nations’ emergency humanitarian fund stepped in, offering a low-interest loan to cover the remaining amount.

Following this milestone, Boskalis, a salvage company, assumed responsibility for completing the cleanup operation. They successfully concluded their work on August 11th, with a new oil tanker named the MT Yemen docking alongside Safer to extract the last remnants of her oil before the aging vessel was towed to the shores of Yemen for decommissioning.

In light of his life-saving efforts in Yemen, Gressly is now contemplating the establishment of contingency plans for future scenarios of a similar nature. This consideration is particularly pertinent given the revelation that Safer had only 12 to 18 months left before disintegrating into the sea.


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