Media

The Old Hunt Oil Tanker That Might Explode and Kill Thousands of People

A New Yorker details an impending disaster.

The latest issue of The New Yorker arrived in my mailbox yesterday. (Gimme that paper and ink!) A story therein caught my eye. It’s about an old oil tanker moored off the coast of Yemen. The F.S.O. Safer, once called the Esso Japan, is one of the largest tankers ever built. It’s 1,100 feet long and 200 feet wide. Onboard is more than 1 million barrels of crude with a market value of about $60 million — and the whole thing could explode (or sink) any day now. It’s a fascinating story that you need a subscription to read online. (Imagine that, asking people to subscribe to read great journalism.)

In any event, a couple pages in, I came across this passage:

In 1983, the Hunt Oil Company, of Dallas, discovered crude in the Marib desert. The site of the strike was in the Yemen Arab Republic—sometimes known as North Yemen—about twenty miles from the border with the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, or South Yemen. Between 1984 and 1987, Hunt teamed up with Exxon to build a pipeline from the Marib oil fields to Ras Issa, on the coast of North Yemen, near Hodeidah.

For its Marib crude, Hunt needed storage space and an export facility on the coast. The company’s license to extract oil lasted only fifteen years, so building an onshore storage terminal at Ras Issa—which would take years and cost more than a hundred million dollars—didn’t seem like a good investment. Instead, for about a tenth of that price, Hunt bought the Esso Japan and retrofitted it as a floating storage-and-off-loading unit. Smaller tankers could berth alongside it to access its oil. Karim Abuhamad, a manager who worked on the conversion of the ship for Hunt, told me that the intent was to create a “floating gas station.”

How about that? A Dallas company put that ship there. I hasten to add that Hunt Oil is not responsible for the current awful state of affairs. For that, blame mostly the civil war in Yemen and the guy who is now dead who may have laid mines all around the ship. As I said, fascinating (and scary) story.

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