NEW YORK — The transfer of more than a million barrels of oil from an aging tanker moored off the coast of war-torn Yemen has been completed, avoiding an environmental disaster, the United Nations said Friday.
In a statement, Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said the operation had prevented “monumental environmental and humanitarian catastrophe.”
An international team began siphoning the oil from the dilapidated vessel known as SOF Safer on July 25. All of the oil is now aboard a replacement tanker called MOST Yemen.
Before the transfer, the Safer carried four times as much oil as was spilled in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska, one of the world’s worst ecological catastrophes, according to the U.N.
International organizations and rights groups warned for years of the potential for a spill or an explosion involved the tanker, which has not been maintained and has seawater in its engine compartment and damaged pipes.
It is moored 3.7 miles from Yemen’s western Red Sea ports of Hodeida and Ras Issa, a strategic area controlled by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels who are at war with the internationally recognized Yemeni government.
The warring sides blamed each other for blocking a salvage operation to remove the oil until a U.N.-led initiative succeeded in accessing the ship and raising money from international donors.
The transfer marks a major milestone in a plan that needs additional funding to transport the oil away and to move the SOF Safer. The U.N. said a small amount of oil remains inside the Safer’s hull and that the salvage team needs to install a secure system for mooring the replacement tanker in deep water.