Sinking of Rubymar risks environmental catastrophe

A fertilizer-laden bulk carrier sank in the Red Sea on Saturday, in an incident that Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, the new prime minister 0f Yemen’s internationally recognized government, has described as “an unprecedented environmental disaster”.

The Belize-flagged Rubymar was hit by two Houthi missiles on February 18, and had been slowly taking on water. The vessel – which had been travelling from Ras al-Khair, Saudi Arabia, to Varna, Bulgaria – was carrying 18,000 tonnes of ammonium phosphate sulfate, S&P Global Commodity Insights reported on Sunday, quoting the ship’s broker.

Environmental groups have warned that the release of such large quantities of fertilizer into the Red Sea is likely to cause an acidification event, which will result in a major algal bloom. They say that this will seriously harm the local marine ecosystem, which is home to 300 species of coral and 2,100 types of fish. The Rubymar has also leaked large amounts of oil.

Following the sinking, US Central Command reiterated its condemnation of the Iran-aligned Islamist group’s ‘unprovoked’ attack, noting that the vessel also poses a subsurface impact risk to other ships seeking to transit through the Bab al-Mandeb Strait.

The owners of the bulk carrier had been exploring the possibility of carrying out a salvage mission, but, ultimately, the damage was too extensive and the Houthis had indicated that they were unwilling to allow such an operation to take place unless humanitarian aid trucks were permitted to enter Gaza.

The Houthis have attacked around 60 commercial vessels since mid-November, in a campaign they say is designed to put pressure on Israel to halt its assault on the beleaguered Palestinian enclave. The Rubymar, which was built in 1997 and had a 32,211 deadweight tonnage, is the first ship to have been sunk by the group. The vessel’s 24-man crew were safely evacuated to Djibouti following the attack.


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