The UN on Tuesday began siphoning one million barrels of oil from a decaying supertanker off the coast of war-torn Yemen, a crucial step in the race against time to prevent a potential environmental disaster.

Transfer of oil from the FSO Safer to the replacement oil tanker in Yemen has started, marking an important milestone in this United Nations-coordinated operation to avert a potential massive environmental and humanitarian disaster.

Following the successful mooring of the very large crude carrier Yemen (formerly known as Nautica) alongside the FSO Safer off Yemen’s Red Sea coast, SMIT Salvage crew were able to take the final precautions, connect the hoses between the two tankers and start the ship-to-ship transfer of the approximate 1.14 million barrels of crude oil from the decaying FSO Safer into the oil tanker Yemen on Tuesday.  This operation is expected to take around two to three weeks.

Once the Yemen arrived on site last week, the vessel was moored alongside the Safer’s starboard side over the weekend.

During this successful mooring operation, the Yemen was assisted by the Smit Lamnalco tugs SL Aden and SL Manakin.

Boskalis’ multipurpose support vessel Ndeavor remained alongside the Safer on its port side to keep the heading of the FSO Safer in position during the mooring operation.

Subsequently oil booms were installed on the bow and stern between both vessels as a precautionary measure during the cargo transfer.

Carrying over 1.1 million barrels of oil, the supertanker FSO Safer was abandoned off Yemen’s Red Sea port of Hudaydah after the civil war broke out in the country in 2015.

Since then, the Safer has deteriorated significantly in absence of any servicing or maintenance, prompting fears of a major environmental disaster.

“The United Nations has begun an operation to defuse what might be the world’s largest ticking time bomb. This is an all-hands-on-deck mission and the culmination of nearly two years of political groundwork, fundraising and project development” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.