NGOs urge UNDP to ensure clean, safe recycling of FSO Safer

In a letter addressed to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), and the Basel Action Network (BAN), the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, representing a global coalition of human rights and environmental organizations, called for the recycling of the Floating Storage and Offloading (FSO) vessel SAFER in accordance with international law and UNDP’s own ethical and sustainability policies. 

The NGOs warn against the possibility of the FSO being scrapped at one of the notorious South Asian shipbreaking yards known for their poor working conditions and the irreversible harm their operations cause to public health and fragile ecosystems.

“Now that a successful operation has commenced for removing oil from the FSO SAFER, it is essential that the UNDP addresses the inherent risks associated with the cleaning of the vessel’s tanks and its scrapping. We urge the UNDP to exercise due diligence when selecting the final recycling destination,” says Ingvild Jenssen, Founder and Director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform. 

The FSO SAFER likely contains significant amounts of toxic substances and materials, including asbestos, mercury-contaminated oil residues and heavy metal-laden paints, that may cause damage to human health and the environment.

The UNDP must ensure compliance with the UN Basel Convention, which regulates the transboundary movement and disposal of hazardous wastes, and that the recycling of the FSO SAFER is carried out in a facility that respects international labor rights; guarantees full containment of pollutants via a dry-dock or equivalent infrastructure; and is capable of managing all hazardous materials onboard and embedded within the FSO’s structure in a safe and environmentally sound manner. 

In view of the vessel’s dire condition, precautions must furthermore be taken to avoid that the contaminated structure sinks during its transport to the recycling yard.  

Jenssen says: “The UNDP cannot allow its Stop Red Sea Oil Spill operation end with the FSO SAFER putting workers, local communities and the environment in South Asia at risk. The shipbreaking beaches in South Asia are already some of the most polluted beaches in the world. 

“Alternatives exist, and the UNDP must opt a facility that operates in accordance with industry best practice and uses environmentally friendly technologies implementing sound life-cycle practices.”

The FSO SAFER, carrying approximately 1.1 million barrels of crude oil, has been laid-up since 2015 due to the conflict in Yemen. Its deteriorating condition poses a severe risk of the vessel breaking and causing a massive oil spill to the Red Sea which would represent an ecological and humanitarian disaster. 

In response to this imminent threat, the United Nations have prompted collaborative efforts to cover the costs related to the removal of the oil onboard and preparation of the vessel for recycling. 

Donors, private companies and members of the public have so far contributed US$100 million toward the UN plan to prevent the spill, and Dutch company Boskalis, via its subsidiary SMIT Salvage, has now been tasked with the removal of the oil from the FSO. 

Simultaneously, shipping broker Clarkson, on behalf of UNDP, is currently accepting bids for the towing and scrapping of the vessel.

Photo credit: iStock/ Mohammad Shajahan. Sitakund Ship Breaking Yard, Chittagong, Bangladesh.

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