The Houthis, who control the region that surrounds the mooring area, have long balked at United Nations requests to assess the vessel’s condition. But they appeared to have a change of heart after a seawater leak into the Safer’s engine room in May, which the crew and an emergency team of divers sent by the vessel’s owner were able to temporarily patch.
Speaking at the same Security Council briefing as Ms. Anderson, Mark Lowcock, the top relief official at the United Nations, said that the Houthi leadership had confirmed in writing that it would allow a long-planned U.N. mission to appraise the tanker, “which we hope will take place within the next few weeks.”
Still, Mr. Lowcock was guarded in his optimism. In August of 2019, the Houthis consented to a United Nations request to inspect the tanker, only to cancel it the night before.
The Houthis’ reluctance to relinquish control over the vessel stems in part from the group’s desire to sell the oil, or at least to use it for bargaining leverage with their Saudi adversaries. But the coronavirus pandemic has severely reduced the price of oil, making the Safer’s contents much less valuable. Moreover, the oil has been languishing in rusting tanks for at least five years, which may have befouled it.
“The Houthis may think, ‘We need to get rid of this before this becomes a massive problem for us,’” said Samir Madani, co-founder of TankerTrackers.com, an online service that monitors maritime shipments and storage of petroleum. “I would like to think that is the case.”
Moreover, he said, the Safer’s cargo “is probably contaminated — this would be the last deposit of oil you would want to buy.”
Ian M. Ralby, the founder and chief executive of I.R. Consilium, a maritime security consultancy, said it was possible that Houthi leaders who once viewed the Safer as an asset “may now see the benefit in allowing the situation to be resolved.”
By Rick Gladstone