Ongoing attacks complicate salvaging of Houthi ships

The MV Rubymar pictured before its sinking
Efforts to limit environmental damage from sunken cargo ships due to Houthi attacks are on hold, as attacks continue to disrupt salvage operations. The incidents include a British-owned ship, Ruby Lake, and a Greek vessel, True Trust, prompting concerns over fuel leaks and fertilizer spills impacting marine life.
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The United Nations Maritime Regulations have announced that efforts to limit environmental damage from two cargo ships that sank or were abandoned due to attacks will be put on hold until the attacks on ships ease. The British-owned Ruby Lake and the Greek-owned True Trust both faced attacks in the Red Sea, with the Ruby Lake carrying fertilizer and posing potential environmental risks due to fuel leaks and dangerous cargo. The salvage operations, which include refloating vessels and repairing damage, are critical to protecting marine life and the coastal environment.

The increasing drone and missile campaign by the Iran-aligned Houthi militants against merchant shipping has disrupted trade through the Suez Canal, forcing ships to take longer routes around Africa. The IMO has sent advisers to assist Yemen’s government in recovery efforts in the Red Sea but is unable to do the same for the True Trust in the Gulf of Aden due to safety concerns. The environmental impact of the Rubymar sinking includes an 18-mile-long oil slick and the containment of its fertilizer cargo, posing a safety risk to passing ships.

Amid ongoing conflicts and attacks on merchant ships in the region, the IMO is working with other United Nations agencies to support recovery efforts and prevent further environmental damage. A U.N. recovery team successfully prevented an oil spill off the coast of Yemen in 2023 by pumping out oil from a stranded supertanker, demonstrating the importance of swift action to protect marine ecosystems. The situation underscores the challenges of responding to environmental threats in conflict zones and the need for international cooperation to address maritime safety and environmental protection.

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