Abandoned Red Sea Oil Tanker Threatens Health of Millions of Yemenis, Study Finds

An abandoned oil sea tanker in the Red Sea — at risk of spilling 1.1 million oil barrels — threatens the health of millions of Yemenis and those in neighboring countries, according to a study published on Oct. 11.

The study, which was led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and published in the journal Nature Sustainability, used thousands of simulation models to predict the public health impact of an “imminent” Red Sea oil spill.

The FSO Safer, which was abandoned at roughly five nautical miles off the coast of war-torn Yemen in 2015, could potentially leave about eight million people without water and food and could worsen the displacement crisis, the study revealed.

“Most people can easily imagine how a massive spill might affect the environment, but the effects on public health, especially in a region undergoing a humanitarian crisis like Yemen, are harder to grasp,” Benjamin Huynh, lead author of the study, said.

According to the study, an oil spill could increase respiratory and cardiovascular hospitalizations by 5.8% to 42% for the general population. However, for individuals directly exposed to the oil, such as clean-up workers, the number increases to 530%.

The study also found that the long-term and global impacts of the oil spill were “potentially severe,” as it may endanger wildlife and contaminate coastline for decades.

The study also warned that clean-up efforts, even under optimistic conditions, would be slow.

“Our hope is that by characterizing the public health threat the vessel poses, we can more accurately convey the urgency of the situation, and thus help push international parties to come to a solution,” Huynh said.

“The only real solution is to get the oil off the vessel, and there’s still time to do it,” Huynh further said.

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