Thank you very much to the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the United Nations for the invitation to give remarks at the Pledging Conference and for hosting this important event. The United States commends UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen David Gressly for leading the international community to find an immediate and durable solution to the threats posed by the derelict Safer oil tanker and for the strong role played by the Kingdom of the Netherlands. A few weeks ago, I joined the UN Coordinator and the Dutch Ambassador to Yemen Peter-Derrick Hof on a trip to several Gulf countries to raise awareness about the threats the Safer poses to the Gulf and the entire region – not just Yemen. We joined efforts to galvanize support for the UN’s emergency plan to offload oil from the Safer to avert a regional environmental catastrophe, an economic disruption with global ramifications, and exacerbation of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Yemenis are already suffering from the world’s worst humanitarian crisis due to the ongoing war; they cannot endure another humanitarian challenge caused by a catastrophic oil spill from or explosion of the Safer.
We are at a pivotal moment in Yemen. In the past month alone, we have seen some of the most significant progress in years in our joint efforts to bring peace to Yemen. For the first time in six years, a UN-led two-month truce is holding with unequivocal support from the United States and the international community. The truce is improving the lives of millions of Yemenis – by enabling the flow of essential goods, improving freedom of movement, facilitating humanitarian access, and saving lives. It is critical that the parties secure the current truce by adhering to its terms, including opening roads to contested cities like Taiz and facilitating flights to and from Sana’a. The parties must now urgently work together and with the UN to turn the current truce into a comprehensive ceasefire and inclusive political process. We must also build on the positive momentum from the UN-negotiated truce in Yemen and seize the opportunity for the international community to rally behind the UN’s efforts to address threats posed by the Safer. The recent signing of an MOU between the UN and the Houthis to support an emergency initiative to avert the risk of a Safer spill or explosion offers us a significant opportunity.
A leak from or explosion of the Safer would cost the region billions of dollars in lost revenue, decimate the fisheries and reefs that are part of the Red Sea’s marine ecosystem, and disrupt the globally important maritime traffic that passes through the Bab al Mandab. Cleanup costs alone for such a disaster are estimated at $20 billion. When the Ever Given ran aground in the Suez Canal, economic losses reached more than $9 billion a day – a Safer spill that slows or halts marine traffic through the Bab al Mandeb risks similar disruption and negative impact. Compare these tens of billions to $144 million needed to implement the two-track UN plan, which includes $80 million urgently required for an emergency operation to transfer the Safer’s oil to a temporary vessel, an operation that could start as early as June. Donors in the Gulf, the region, and beyond, including private actors, must step up and seize this opportunity. We call on the private sector – which has so much to lose from such a disaster – to join us in taking urgent action.
The United States has provided technical and scientific support and senior level advocacy to address this looming threat. Salvage experts from the U.S. National Response Team have lent their expertise to advising and refining the UN plan – and their independent assessments have given us the confidence that the plan you are being asked to fund is a top-caliber professional undertaking that has taken full account of the risks inherent in this kind of operation. The United States has supported UN efforts on readiness, contingency, and response planning. We have also leant subject matter expertise from the U.S. government and broader community of U.S. experts to advise and assist UN plans to address the risk. U.S. Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency Administration have conducted detailed reviews of technical modeling of potential impacts – and their review leaves no doubt that under any scenario, a spill from the Safer would have severe impacts on Yemen, in the Gulf, and beyond into the whole Red Sea region. We simply cannot wait to see if these models come true – we must act now to fund the carefully developed plan that lies before us. And the U.S. Department of State, working with the U.S. Congress and other U.S. agencies, is seriously exploring how to further support this urgent UN-led effort, and we will have more on that in coming days, following today’s launch. We count on other donors to join in carrying this effort forward. It will make all the difference as to whether the Red Sea continues to be a source of environmental and economic wealth for the Gulf, the region, and the global community, or whether the Safer goes down in history as one of the world’s worst preventable tragedies. Those are the stakes.
We thank those donors who are pledging today for their support and urge those considering a contribution to give generously to this effort to provide the required $144 million for the two-track UN plan, which includes $80 million urgently required for the emergency operation. Today marks the beginning of a unique opportunity to finally address the Safer’s threats to the Gulf and the region, and environmental heritage and maritime routes of global importance. We must seize it — and take action now to avoid the economic, environmental, and humanitarian consequences of an oil spill or explosion in the Red Sea. Thank you.