Could Houthi-sunk ship Rubymar spell eco-disaster for the Red Sea? | Israel War on Gaza News

‘Time is of the essence’: Greenpeace director warns urgent need for a strategy to protect the Red Sea from catastrophic environmental damage.

Rubymar, the Belizean-flagged British cargo ship that was badly damaged in a Houthi attack in February, has almost completely sunk in the Red Sea, creating an oil slick and raising serious concerns about environmental damage to surrounding waters and their coral reefs.

Here’s a look at the type of damage the Rubymar can cause:

What happened to the Rubymar?

The ship was hit on February 18 by anti-ship missiles launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels while transiting the Bab al-Mandeb Strait. The crew escaped the ship and evacuated to safety when the attack began. The Houthis have said they will target any ships in the area linked to Israel, the United States or the United Kingdom to pressure them to end Israel’s war on Gaza, and they have claimed the attack.

Early Saturday, the US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) released an image of the ship lying on its side in the water. A post from CENTCOM on social media platform

Rubymar is the first ship sunk in the Red Sea since the Houthis began targeting commercial ships in November.

What pollutants does the Rubymar discharge into the Red Sea?

Satellite images show that the Rubymar has been leaking oil into the sea for weeks since the engine room was damaged during the attack.

“This ongoing spill poses a threat to marine life given the toxic nature of oil,” Julien Jreissati, Greenpeace MENA (Middle East-North Africa) program director, told Al Jazeera. Oil spills can also make seafood unsafe to eat.

Oil spills are especially harmful to coral reefs and can hinder the “reproduction, growth, behavior and development of coral,” according to the United Nations Environment Program.

The Rubymar is also believed to be carrying more than 41,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, according to Greenpeace MENA. “We have no information on whether the cargo of fertilizer is leaking into the sea,” Jreissati said.

However, if the fertilizer mixes with the water in the Red Sea, it could disrupt the balance of the marine ecosystem and impact multiple food chains that exist within it, according to a statement released Saturday by Greenpeace MENA.

Excessive amounts of fertilizer in the water can cause ammonia poisoning and kill fish, according to an article by Environment Management Specialists at North Dakota State University. If the fish die, the catch will be low for Yemeni fishermen, who have already suffered from the country’s war in recent years.

The Greenpeace report added that several fish species and the livelihoods of coastal communities could be harmed.

Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, the prime minister of Yemen’s internationally recognized government, called the ship’s sinking “an unprecedented environmental disaster.” Bin Mubarak has long been seen as an opponent of the Houthis.

Can the damage caused by the Rubymar be stopped?

At this time, a small part of the ship is still visible above the water’s surface, indicating that it has not yet sunk to the seabed. “The tip of Rubymar’s bow appears to remain afloat, but this precarious situation could change quickly,” Jreissati said.

That’s why he added: “Time is of the essence.” If the ship descends to the seabed, any emergency operations to save it would become complex, he explained. “Every moment that passes increases the risk to both the environment and potential rescue efforts.”

He said quick action is imperative, adding that “a team of experts is urgently needed on the ground to assess the extent of the damage and formulate a rescue strategy.”

The leader of the Houthi revolutionary committee, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi Posted on X that there is still a chance to prevent further damage if British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his government act quickly to allow aid to Gaza. He stated that they are responsible for the Rubymar attack because of their support for the war against Gaza.

“Sunak has a chance to get the Rubymar back by allowing aid trucks into Gaza,” he wrote, specifying that George Galloway, the independent rebel who opposes the war on Gaza and recently won a parliamentary seat in northern England won, must sign a letter of guarantee. . Al-Houthi did not elaborate on whether this meant the Houthis would allow a salvage operation to access that part of the sea.

Does climate change also have consequences for the Red Sea?

While global warming has caused ocean temperatures to rise, damaging coral reefs worldwide, reefs in the Red Sea generally continue to thrive. According to marine ecologists and biologists, they are some of the only reefs in the world that could survive global warming.

The main threats to the Red Sea remain overtourism and possible future oil spills.

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