NewsShipwreck in Red Sea Threatens Major Environmental Catastrophe

Shipwreck in Red Sea Threatens Major Environmental Catastrophe

The Ever Given container ship, right, enters the Great Bitter Lake after being freed from the Suez Canal in Suez, Egypt, on Monday, March 29, 2021. The giant Ever Given container ship was finally pulled free from the bank of the Suez Canal, allowing for a massive tail back of ships to start navigating once again through one of the worlds most important trade routes. Photographer: Islam Safwat/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The Ever Given container ship, right, enters the Great Bitter Lake after being freed from the Suez Canal in Suez, Egypt, on Monday, March 29, 2021. The giant Ever Given container ship was finally pulled free from the bank of the Suez Canal, allowing for a massive tail back of ships to start navigating once again through one of the worlds most important trade routes. Photographer: Islam Safwat/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Images source: © GETTY | Bloomberg
2:24 PM EST, March 9, 2024
On February 18, the Rubymar was targeted by a Houthi missile, causing an oil slick that extended over 25 miles across the Red Sea's surface. For days, the fate of the crew and the ship remained uncertain post-attack, until it was confirmed that the vessel had indeed sunk. The incident was documented in a video that showcased the ship's final moments.
Not only did the sinking release vast quantities of fertilizers into the sea, but it also led to significant oil leakage. According to the website TankerTrackers, this event might trigger "an ecological disaster" affecting both Yemeni territorial waters and the broader Red Sea area.
Ian Ralby, the founder of maritime security firm I.R. Consilium, highlighted the potential scale of the disaster, given the Red Sea's unique circulation patterns. In the winter, water flows northward towards the Suez Canal, while in summer, it moves outward towards the Gulf of Aden. Ralby's summation to the AP agency was stark: "what spills in the Red Sea, stays in the Red Sea."
The Red Sea's significance extends beyond maritime travel; it is a vital source for desalinating seawater, providing drinking water to various cities in Saudi Arabia. The leaked oil from the Rubymar risks clogging desalination equipment, potentially jeopardizing this water supply.
Additionally, the Red Sea is an essential source of seafood, especially for Yemen. Before the ongoing civil war, fishing was a major industry second only to oil exports in economic importance.
While it remains unclear exactly how much oil escaped from the Rubymar, Ralby estimates the spill didn't exceed 7,000 barrels—a figure surpassing the damages from the Wakashio shipwreck near Mauritius four years prior, which inflicted multi-million dollar losses and severely impacted local fishermen.
The potential danger posed by the submerged fertilizers is yet to be fully assessed, but the worst scenario would involve their sudden ingress into the marine environment. Such a release could fuel harmful algal blooms, creating "dead zones" devoid of oxygen and endangering the vibrant and temperature-resilient coral reefs extensively studied by scientists.
Since last November, Houthi forces have targeted commercial ships in the Red Sea, alleging connections to Israel, the USA, and Great Britain, in a show of support for Hamas in Gaza. In response, the United States led the formation of multinational forces in December to safeguard maritime routes in this strategic region.
The Houthis have launched over 45 missiles at vessels navigating the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since their campaign began. While many were intercepted by coalition forces, some successfully damaged ships. Consequently, maritime traffic has increasingly bypassed the shortest Asia-to-Europe route via the Suez Canal, opting instead for a significantly longer detour around Africa. This shift has substantial implications for global logistics and supply chains.
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