A rusting oil tanker, the FSO Saferoff, Yemen’s Red Sea coast is loaded with more than a million barrels of crude oil and experts have warned of an environmental catastrophe if the vessel breaks apart, the BBC reports.
The tanker has had virtually no maintenance since the start of Yemen’s devastating civil war five years ago.
Houthi rebels agreed to let a UN team access the tanker, but there is a dispute over the sale of its oil.
The 45-year-old FSO Safer is anchored about 60km (37 miles) north of the rebel-held port of Hudaydah.
Water recently entered the tanker’s engine room, increasing the risk that the vessel would sink or explode. A temporary fix was found, but the UN said it could have led to disaster.
As well as devastating marine life in the Red Sea, an oil spill could destroy the livelihoods of people who depend on the area for fishing.
Yemeni environmental group Holm Akhdar (Green Dream) estimates more than 126,000 people working in the fishing industry could lose their jobs.
The UN is said to be discussing the sale of the recovered oil, estimated to be worth $40m (£31m), and the division of the proceeds between the Houthis and the Yemeni government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states.
However, the Houthis have insisted that they should be able to sell the oil.
The value of the oil is half of what it was before crude prices crashed, according to Reuters news agency. Although it could be lower, depending on the oil’s quality.