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The F.S.O. Safer could spill a million barrels of crude at any moment (newyorker.com)
233 points by richardatlarge 54 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 162 comments

This kind of things is what I think of when people complain about "hidden external costs of electric cars".

Yes, recycling batteries is an issue. Conditions in rare earth mines are an issue.

But when you want to "consider hidden costs" of EVs you should do the same for ICE cars. And there are lots of these, including building, maintaining and recycling supertankers, refineries, pipelines, oil wells on land and in the sea, causing oil spill every decade, keeping oil tyrannies in charge, fueling resource wars in 3rd world countries.

But it's status quo so it doesn't count.

The hard truth is that both are unsustainable and extremely inefficient in the end.

Transporting 70kg of meat in a 2 tons metal box, which is sitting unused 95% of its life, using 10 sq meters of public space. ~25% of the materials used on a car aren't recyclable and end up in a landfill. With an average lifespan of 12 years and 1.4 billion vehicles on earth that's a lot of waste.

And that's not even talking about the current trend of ditching nuclear for intermittent energy sources while at the same time increasing our reliance on electricity

You could make similar arguments about houses, offices, etc. Humans have a desire for comfort, being protected from the elements and such, and those desires aren't invalid.

The argument of cars wasting space is a very city-centric view, in which people live in a very densely populated area. The surface area of this planet is around 500e6 km^2, of which about 1/3 is land-area (~166e6 km^2). Of course not nearly all of that is inhabitable, but if we assumed that every person owned a car, they'd all combined take 8e9 * 10 m^2 = 8e4 km^2 of space, or < 0.0005% of available land.

Very, very rough estimation, but just to poke fun at the ridiculous claim that allocating 10 m^2 for every person's transportation device is wasteful. We got enough space, it's just our way of living stacked on top of each other, which is weird.

Sure, it could be more efficient, but people's basic desires aren't numbers to do cold optimizations like that on.

If you compare everything to the surface area of the planet then sure, my 3cm brain tumor isn't that big either then... What matters is that cars are taking all the space in cities, most people do live in cities, and the rate of urbanisation is going up.

I don't think cars are a "desire" either, it's more of a need we imposed ourselves because of the way we chose to live, and we see where this is leading us: polluted, pedestrian hostile cities, the creation of large commercial centers outside of cities which in turn created a need for more cars, &c.

Visit any medium/big city and imagine it without parked cars, these small 10 sq meters quickly add up and would change the way you perceive the city. No more noise, no more danger for pedestrians, maybe more apartments, parks, trees/vegetations, terraces, bicycle lanes, community gardens, &c.

I believe the current form of EVs are the last breath of a dying beast, personal vehicles are bound to disappear of city centers. I commute by bike and I see traffic jams every single day in virtually every major streets of my city, jams made of mostly 5 seats cars being used by one person.



Where I come from, there is so little urbanization that the average number of active cars is very close to the number of adults in the country.

Even within cities, the situation is pretty rough, there's just too many cars, and too little public transportation.

This creates a vicious cycle, nobody wants to move to the city because of the cars, the smog, the noise, and traffic, so everybody moves out, except that most people have to commute in the city.

I have since moved to Copenhagen, and I have not used a car in 2 years, buses are always packed but there's always another one coming in 5 minutes, and a bike is more than sufficient for my needs.

Contrasting the two was eye opening, and Copenhagen isn't even a Metropolis like NY or Tokyo.

I hope that pedestrians and cyclists reclaim cities from cars. Vastly more efficient, better for our health, the environment, noise pollution, and far safer for children.

Now re-do your math but take into account where people actually live. People aren't equally distributed across the earth, they live in majority in cities where space is a major problem. Not just "high density" cities like New York, just cities.

"It could be more efficient", it is already more efficient in a lot of part of the globe as not every countries created themselves a society that depends on every single person having a car to be able to go to work. Do you mean those people basic desires are not fulfilled?

Living in cities is already more efficient than the alternative. Having everything in close proximity to each other is huge for efficiency.

Imagine how much more efficient it could be without cars.

But yes, people living a rural life usually need cars. And their lifestyle is less efficient. Both can be true at the same time.

Cars are a comfort utility for sure, but the alternatives are not viable any more. It gets really cold here and the snow gets really deep. Walking to town is possible but transporting anything meaningful beyond what fits in a rucksack is challenging in the snow. Stores don't like people bringing in rucksacks. Most people are not fat-adapted and aren't healthy enough to make that journey on a regular basis carrying that payload. The elderly would for sure freeze to death. I could ride a horse into town but there are no longer designated hitching areas or at least not many, so I would be putting the horse at risk. Horses emit CO2 and consume fuel even when you are not riding them. Most vehicles here are trucks and half of them are diesel. I have not seen any EV's in that class of vehicle yet. The closest is the Ford Lightning which AFAIK is not available until spring 2022 and that is a light duty truck.

When will medium and heavy duty EV trucks be available? What companies are working on these? Are they all-wheel drive? How heavy of a trailer can they tow and how far? Are any of them flat-beds with a 5th-wheel hitch option?

The pendulum swung too far and now we realise that everything we got used to isn't sustainable, the alternatives aren't viable because we made cars a requirement for virtually everything. We'll have to make sacrifices, the future of humanity isn't 12B of people with Teslas

And what is the future of humanity? Living in ant hill and never going outside of the urban 10x10 mile box?

The alternative isn't walking 20 miles everyday, it's to take a bus or a train and only use the car when you need to drive far or transport something big. So like once a week or less often.

At least that's how I use my car. And it sometimes gets down to -25C here in the winter and I've seen over a meter of snow on the roads a few times. Funnily enough - when it happens usually more people use public transport cause a big bus have easier time driving over that than a small personal cars, and besides you don't have to shovel the snow for half an hour in the morning to take a bus.

40 Km around here takes about 30 minutes drive or almost 2h with public transports, due to the connections and waiting times.

Not counting the actuall walk into the nearest stop, and how much humans they might try to fit into a single bus or train wagon.

Guess which option people go to.

Guess why it takes 2 hours! If cars weren’t as accessible public transport would be better.

1 - travel to main station

2 - change transport

3 - travel to neighbouring city

4 - change transport

5 - travel to city area where customer is located

6 - change transport

7 - travel to the actual neighbourhood where customer building is located


1 - travel directly to customer building

Thanks for stating the obvious. Now go and look at big cities where a car is impractical and unaffordable. Guess what! People manage by using public transport.

People survive by using public transport.

Yeah nobody wants to live in these big cities anymore, it’s far too busy!

There's certainly a crowd where "I don't have to own a car or drive" is a benefit of a dense city.

But does anyone ever think "I don't want to have access to a car at all"?

Rich people in dense cities, even ones that don't want to drive themselves, travel by car all the time - they might not be driving themselves, though. Sometimes they travel by helicopter, which has even more externalities.

You have to look at what the wealthy do in terms of understanding what people want - if someone doesn't ever have or take a car because they can't afford it, that doesn't mean they wouldn't want to.

People probably think ‘I don’t want to pay for having access to a car’ all the time.

People want to snap their fingers and be at their destination. Not surprising and not very useful to know.

There are more places to live and work on this planet than big cities.

That would work but I have never seen a city bus here. The town just isn't big enough to justify it. I've seen tour buses on the highway but they are going to Yellowstone and don't make stops.

Yeah that sucks. I don't understand why my home village of 500 people have a bus to nearest city every 30 minutes and big towns in USA don't.

Except that about 30 million people just went remote, and when I say remote I mean 20 minutes from town where there are no buses.

Yes but these are all problems caused by car-first infrastructure and we shouldn’t over-optimize for edge cases for locations where it “gets so cold the elderly would freeze to death”. I guess I’m not an old person but if you lived in a walkable town are the elderly really freezing to death walking to go get a cup of coffee?

The only reason alternatives aren’t viable is because we actively choose to make them not viable. They’re viable all over the world. Just not here because we’d rather shackle ourselves to oil and debt instead.

The elderly drive into town to go to the grocery store. Yes, back in the day everyone grew all the things they needed on their land. I wish this were still the case but with the common availability of stores people have grown accustom to driving to the store to stock up on food. For the elderly and physically disabled that have internet they could shop online if they knew this was a thing and have food delivered to them via someone elses truck. This is by no means an edge case. This is the normal life for 20% of people in the United States. Even in places that don't get cold, elderly are not going to be walking to the grocery store. I don't think we are going to dial back this reality short of a world-war that decimates society everywhere and/or some event that sends us back to the stone age.

I should add that even if we all agreed to turn back that dial and get back to self sustainability it is not something you can just turn on. This requires a few generations for this to be functional for entire families.

> The elderly drive into town to go to the grocery store. Yes, back in the day everyone grew all the things they needed on their land.

When I was a kid, and that wasn't a long time ago, we had grocery stores in every large streets, they all closed and relocated to the new commercial complex 5km outside of the city. My grandparents used to be able to literally cross the street and buy their food, now they have to rely on family member to go shopping for them.

>Even in places that don't get cold, elderly are not going to be walking to the grocery store. I don't think we are going to dial back this reality short of a world-war that decimates society everywhere and/or some event that sends us back to the stone age.

This comment is outlandish. In vast swathes of the non-American developed world (Europe, Japan, etc) walking, cycling, and public transport are perfectly normal ways of getting around that many, if not a majority, of elderly people use on a daily basis without any difficulty whatsoever. And indeed these people are widely considered to be thriving - in no small part because they remain physically active and engaged in their community, which is another convenient upside of avoiding car culture.

Not exactly the stone age, as your comment mentions. Like the parent comment says, the majority of the potential negatives associated with avoiding car culture are in themselves a consequence of car culture in the first place.

> elderly are not going to be walking to the grocery store.

This is by design. That's it. There's nothing stopping elderly people from walking to grocery stores except that we build in a way to make that impossible. They'd probably live longer and be healthier (as we all would be) if we walked a little more. It's very easy to test this - how do most people in the world including the elderly get their groceries?

> I should add that even if we all agreed to turn back that dial

I wouldn't be so quick to suggest that walking is turning back the dial anymore than stopping smoking is.

It's not that they have to grow their food, it's that they should be able to hop on a cheap bus to the nearest city. It actually makes it easier for elderly than car culture (for example my grandma doesn't drive but she can use the bus no problem).

Also most places where people live have grocery stores in walking distance here. But that's just another example of "car culture vs walking culture".

BTW another very common sight in countryside is old people biking or walking with a bike. That way they don't need to carry the stuff they bought. And if they get tired they can use the bike as a "walking help".

This is the village where my family comes from: https://goo.gl/maps/XrzEjhMF7VUmdVVRA

It's a village of under 500 people in the poorest part of the poorest region of the EU. The nearest city of about 20 000 people is 25 km away. There's 3 bus stops and 3 grocery shops in this village, as well as a primary school, public library, firestation, medical place(sorry no idea how to translate that, there's a few nurses and a doctor), post office, bank and a church.

If you notice the shop has 4 bikes and 2 cars parked. That's about normal. Most customers probably walked in.

If driving a car was required to live half of the (mostly elderly) population of this village would have to move to a retirement house somewhere cause they probably can't drive anymore (or at least not in big-road traffic which would be required to get to the city).

A bike would in theory be great for those still physically able. Maybe even an E-Bike. There is a path part of the way but it doesn't get plowed. The highway gets plowed but it isn't really safe for anyone to bike on the highway. I don't believe I have ever seen a bicycle on the highway.

As far as I know, biking on the highway is quite illegal in most states. So is walking, unless it's an emergency and you're walking to the next exit to get help because your phone and car are dead. It's been a long time since I checked, but at the time there were just under a dozen states that allow cycling and five or six states that only allow it if bicycle signage is explicitly posted.

But YMMV (literally ;) )

I wasn't sure so I looked it up. Apparently it is legal to ride a bicycle on the interstate in my state. Bikes are treated equal to cars and must follow all the same laws. That said I've not seen anyone do it. I do see dirt motorcycles, tractors... In town there was a tractor behind me in the drive-through.

Typically the elderly can walk to the store or get into a bus longer in their life than they can drive themselves to the store. Driving requires a very high amount of attention and getting older (or being too young!) are perfect examples that show that having a society optimized around car ownership is really not convenient for a lot of people.

If cities cleared snow on bike lanes as dutifully as they do on car lanes, (personal) transportation by bicycle in the winter is viable.

So is personal grocery hauling. There are trailers that can carry 50kg/100lbs of cargo that you just hitch to your bicycle.

That leaves the question of larger deliveries for stores. There are hybrid (muscle + electric) person sized vehicles (I think ups has some for example) that can deliver larger amounts of cargo with a reasonably sized vehicle.

But even then, I’d happily accept delivery trucks early in the morning or late in the evening if that was the only large and noisy vehicles using city roads. I don’t think most of the pollution (air and noise) or the danger to all other living beings in cities come from delivery trucks. No, it’s mostly personal cars.

I'm contemplating getting a small v-plow for an UTV to plow the bike path but I first need to find out if DOT are OK with me doing that. It isn't directly connected to the highway so they might not even own it.

You could also lobby your city so that the taxes you pay are also used for clearing the bike paths. Several Canadian cities do it (Montreal and Toronto). Montreal is much better at it than Toronto though.

It certainly wouldn't hurt to ask. I can always ask. :)

there's still a problem of toting around multi-ton structures which seems semi-obscene, but i a little interested in decoupling some. a car as a self contained structure, with it's own motive power system, with extensive energy reserves, seems wasteful. especially given how much cars just sit around.

i like to image the future as using things like the Citroen skate concept from a couple days ago[1], or other similar-ish strategies of using some kind of detachable tug or tractor that is summonable on demand.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28745304

Yes but self driving cars, which could be a solution for this problem since we could then have cars on demand, are way harder to implement using oil than electricity.

Arguments of that form set up a dichotomy of “return to the Bronze Age, or do nothing.” They are part of why nothing has been done about climate change.

The fossil fuel industry wants you to believe that decarbonizing a modern economy is impossible. They want their product to be absolutely essential and irreplaceable.

Oil is irreplaceable (with current technology) to a very limited extent, but plastics and petrochemicals account for less than 10% of all oil consumption. Aviation is also less than 10%. Cars account for the majority of all oil use. We should be able to cut oil use to 25% of the current total with no deep changes to our standard of living.

It’s even more extreme for coal. Only a tiny percentage of coal is used for metallurgy. Almost all of it goes to electricity production.

You left off all the toxic and environment-degrading crap that the combustion (including combustion further up the supply chain) dumps into the air. Which at least has the "virtue" of spreading enough to also affect the well-to-do - not just those stuck living near the infrastructure, in the petro-kleptocracies, & such.

(My biggest issue with the electric vehicle enthusiasts I have known is that they seem to assume that EV's have zero hidden external costs. It's as if all the extra electricity needed was going to come from magic elves at the North Pole, via wires in hyperspace that no NIMBY could see or object to. (Let alone fail at scale, say, after a hurricane.) And Santa was going to bring EV's for all the human who aren't well-to-do home owners like them. Plus practical charging options, etc. for those folks - including the "living in their car" homeless working poor.)

I’m thinking about getting a plug in hybrid Jeep. There are tons of forum posts bashing them and complaining about lithium mining or what your electricity providers are using for power generation. They also complain that the diesel gets similar mileage as the 4xe. It’s missing the point entirely. Dino fuel production is a dirty dirty industry. My next car will be a hybrid and after that I expect they will be full EVs.

Aren’t most power grids still powered mostly by fossil fuels. You have to pay for the fuel one way or another - i.e. if it’s not gasoline, it’s coal or natural gas; unless you charge only at peak solar/wind power generation and there is excess power generated, your charging will increase fossil fuel usage.

ICE have <30% efficiency. Usually about 20%.

Turbines in powerplants have about 50% efficiency. Best ones up to 60%.

Even if you get all your energy from fossil fuels it's better to burn them in powerplants than in small inefficient ICEs in cars that most of the time aren't even working in optimal conditions and start/stop constantly.

Once you account for transmission, distribution, charging, and battery inefficiencies, electrics fall to the same range or below ice vehicles.

Especially using fast charging technology.

And ironically, using grid renewables decreases relative efficiency, since they require more deployed infrastructure (collection, transmission, etc) per kilowatt-hour generated, since intermittency has to be factored in, as well as the embedded cost of whatever supplies power when the sun isn't shining and wind isn't blowing, whether that be hydro, batteries, natural gas peakers, or nuclear.

EIA estimates 5% grid loss. Charge cycles should be >85% efficient i'd hope (battery losses & charger losses) but probably not in all vehicles. Discharge I'd expect even better. Your guestimate sounds way way off to me.

I'd also expect significant improvement over time. We're just getting good at GaN fets & SiC fets, which usually have a couple % boost to efficiencies versus classic semiconductor chemistries. Newer lower internal resistance batteries provide more power on demand and heat up less, again boosting efficiency. Where-as with cars we've had a number of historical events pushing us towards efficiency, huge incentives to make trucking or other major industries more efficienct, and yet we've seen dwindling returns on optimization investment: we're already very good at gas. Short of jumping to turbines or other radical leaps.

You also havent accounted for energy costs to store, transport/distribute gas, in spite of holding that against electric vehicles. I expect that's probably >15% efficiency loss there too for gas. We could go deeper & assess the energy inputs required to produce these units of power, a gallon of refined low sulfur highway gas versus the kWh produced by solar, nuclear, natural gas, or, heaven forbid coal at the power plant. Again i feel like gas is rapidly losing efficiency marks versus the competiton.

Off the cuff I'd expect >3x energy efficiency net.

I suppose my point is you are still burning fossil fuels - admittedly less of it - in most cases (for now) so you pay into the shipping of that stuff around too.

Well, yes, but you need half the tankers, half the pipelines, half the refineries, etc.

Indeed, but even centralised coal fired electric generation produces less carbon per mile travelled than petrol/diesel engines. We're not there yet, but proper grid management and diverse renewable sources mean that an increasing number of countries are heading towards large parts of base load being renewable. In all scenarios (apart from not travelling at all) electric cars are a carbon win, and it looks like it will only increase.

You can burn the gasoline in a central power station for electricity, feed that into the grid, charge your electric car and still go further than the same amount of gasoline in a petrol car. Without all the adverse health issues that exhaust in close vicinity to people causes.

Also the source of electricity to power the refineries. I found some figure on how much electricity is required for every litre of petrol and it wasn't insignificant - not as much as an electric car but uses but certainly not an order of magnitude less.

Unfortunately I can't remember where I found that information.

According to [1] it's 200 Wh per gallon so 52 Wh per liter.

Average car burns 10 liters per 100 km so that's 0.5 kWh per 100 km.

According to [2] best Tesla uses ~15 kWh per 100 km.

That's 30 times more.

[1] https://www.cfr.org/blog/do-gasoline-based-cars-really-use-m...

[2] https://driving.ca/features/feature-story/home-on-the-range-....

Thanks for digging out the links. I thought I read about it using more than that, but I've probably mis-remembered.

It's crude oil, so this topic is a bit of a tanget. EVs will reduce consumption, but not make it zero.

The problem is over consumption, and shiny, new, must-have electric cars just encourage more of it. The majority of a cars carbon footprint comes from its manufacturing, so it's actually more carbon friendly to run your old ICE car for as long as possible, rather than trade it in for a new EV.

Oil is also a hidden cost of EV's, from energy to plastics, it's still a required component

I'm unclear why this statement is unpopular, its factually correct. There is virtually no technology on the planet that can be made without oil.

Very misleading title on the submission. The New Yorker's title is no better, but their subtitle is half-decent:

"Stranded in Yemen’s war zone, a decaying supertanker has more than a million barrels of oil aboard. If—or when—it explodes or sinks, thousands may die."

Summary - The unmaintained, rusting tanker is at the entrance to the Red Sea (and thus the Suez Canal). The side in the Yemeni civil war which controls it is enjoying considerable benefits from the ongoing threat of a huge oil spill. Diplomatic efforts at a resolution have gone nowhere.

Note - In the context (derelict tanker, crude oil), the term "explode" refers only to the explosion of some flammable vapors at the top of the oil tanks. That would (very likely) still be enough to start breaking up the ship, thus spilling ~all the crude oil.

I’m still reading it but with every paragraph it gets worse and worse and worse. How did this go unnoticed and unreported for so long?

EDIT: I’ve finished it (long article). All I can take away from that is that the current situation and short and long term outlooks are all extremely bleak.

Because there's a civil war in that country, indirectly supported by the US through its Saudi Arabia proxy. It's a nasty, dirty conflict full of human rights violations, and reporting on it would bring to the public's attention many occasions in which the US and its proxy weren't exactly being paragons of virtue. So it's just not reported on instead.

isn’t it a proxy fight between the islamist houthis, supported by iran and north korea, and the saudis, supported by the west?

Seems ironic, as this is a situation where I'd deem the US military a force for good.

The non-explodey solution is most likely going to require *both* sending enough money to Houthi leadership to save face, plus turning up with enough muscle to ensure an agreement to remove the oil is honoured.

> US military a force for good

The US military has never been a force for good, nor a force for evil either. The US military, like all other militaries, is a force for its own country's purposes and goals only. The rest is propaganda.

History has put the US in such a position this propaganda, and the area of control of its military, is extremely widespread.

> The US military, like all other militaries, is a force for its own country's purposes and goals only.

Of course, and for everyone but contrarians, sometimes the US has goals that are a net good. Sometimes the US doesn't, and sometimes the US uses the military inappropriately for commendable but open-ended goals. This isn't open-ended, and not having the tanker is a net good, and you'll notice I emphatically did not suggest using only the US military. I suggested the US military provide security for whatever deal is struck.

Assuming we're living in reality, what non-force-backed solution do you propose that doesn't end with "Thankyou for $ASSET. There has been problem. Send more $ASSET."... Forever?

It's disingenuous to say it is supported by the US. If the US is "supporting it", so is France, UK, Italy, and Spain.

I can't speak for France, Italy, and Spain, but the UK certainly are supporting it. A lot of the munitions dropped by Saudi Arabia on Yemen are of British origin.

We also have some odd policies regarding SA - the recent transfer of ownership of the UK Football (Soccer) club Newcastle United is shrouded in mystery because the UK government granted special secrecy to the incoming Saudi owners. No, this is not fiction.

There's a whole history of unpopular decisions regarding SA, and the wider UAE in general, in the UK. Many times trade (notably arms) sanctions have been called for and routinely ignored. E.g. when the tragic living and working (read: slave) conditions of much of the immigrant workforces were revealed.

I wasn't implying it was a complete list; if it were, presumably at least Iran needs a place on it too. However, the question was why we hadn't heard about it. The answer is because it is a shameful conflict that doesn't make the US look good in any kind of way, so it is just ignored by US media.

Yes, and?

This is not whataboutism, because the author is arguing that we wouldn't say France is supporting it. And if you agree, then it doesn't make sense to treat the U.S. differently.

Whataboutism would instead say something like: Well France is supporting it too, why are you focusing so much on the U.S.?

That makes sense, thanks for clarifying.

Obama started the conflagration in Yemen. He overthrew their leader of over 20 years. He then bombed Yemen to the stone ages. In addition he armed the Saudi and other proxies with weapons to wreak havoc and genocide in Yemen. The Yemen story is like Obama’s grim reaper legacy in Libya (he even help create slave markets there), Sudan, Somalia, Africa and elsewhere.

The overthrow of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh by Obama which was the first step to destroy Yemen:


It seems a bit disingenuous to claim Obama overthrew Saleh. The Obama administration originally supported Saleh, until massive protests made that support untenable — at which point they withdrew support. That's not exactly an Obama-initiated coup.

> Obama started the conflagration in Yemen. He overthrew their leader of over 20 years. He then bombed Yemen to the stone ages.

We're talking the same Obama who got a Nobel peace prize, right?

The same Nobel peace prize that Kissinger got:


The same Kissinger that the Clintons embraced:


Kissinger continued to violate the signed truce after being awarded the Nobel.


Obama has the distinction of being the only Nobel peace prize recipient to authorize bombing another recipient

[0] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/nobel-p...

This part is great from the article:

Obama is commander-in-chief of the US military and therefore ultimately responsible for the AC-130 gunship that repeatedly bombed and strafed a field hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, a week ago.

Weirdly, the aircraft was almost certainly using a 40mm cannon made by Bofors, a company that was once owned by Alfred Nobel, the founder of the peace prize.

Two dozen people were killed, including three children. Among the adults were the staff and patients of the charity that runs the hospital, Médecins Sans Frontières. Doctors Without Borders, as it is also known, was given the Nobel in 1999 for its “pioneering humanitarian work on several continents”.

So a Nobel Peace Prize-winning President is being condemned for sending a gunship to kill the staff of a Nobel Peace Prize-winning charity using weapons made by the company that the founder of the Nobel Peace Prize used to own.

> How did this go unnoticed and unreported for so long?

It didn't? As the article describes, people have been aware of the problem for years already.

It was also discussed here last year


Here is another report from 2018


Maybe you haven't been paying attention. The issue has been covered in mainstream US news media for over a year.


My initial feeling around these kinds of things is always ‘Well, park an aircraft carrier there and force them to clean up their act.’ But then I realize that shit like that is exactly what led to the current problems in the first place.

Mine was a little more... relax: Why doesn't some one just go retrieve the oil? I suppose towing the ship away is a little risky, but reloading the oil should be do able.

Just tell the Saudis that while we might not approve of their war in Yemen, they can go get the oil and sell it at regular market price.

You'd be risking an armed response from the Houthis. They have missiles, drones, and heavy munitions. Would only take one of these to get through and we'd be in exactly the kind of situation we're trying to avoid.

The article mentions possible mines around the ship.

That said I am curious if anyone would buy the oil if someone went there with a tug boat and fetched the ship.

I don't think that's an option. The ship has been moored for 34 years, and hasn't been maintained well during that time.

״Shit like this” has led to the world being the most liberal, prosperous and safe it has ever been.

Nah, not really.

The problem with colonial forces installing democracy in 3rd world countries is that eventually they leave, and then all the old problems come back, AND the native liberal and progressive movements are completely compromised as traitors.

ISIS exists because of USA (and other countries - including my own) involvement in the middle east.

No no no, I'm not for creating democracy, just for enabling it for those who are ready and willing. Houthis are Iranian proxies which need to be dealt with militarily before they create an environmental disaster (this tanker or bombing Aramco facilities in Saudi Arabia or attacking passing tankers will do that). You won't hear me advocating for democracy anywhere in the Middle East.

Yeah, at least parts of the world. And referring to "shit like this", some of it (e.g. the Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe after WW2) has been more successful, but most of it less (e.g. Afghanistan, where the more or less liberal regime which brought some prosperity, although only to a few, collapsed 10 minutes after the US withdrawal, or Iraq, or Vietnam...).

Yeah, my point is that you cannot militarily intervene and think you are done. Hell, even 20 years in Afghanistan wasn’t enough. Staying another 20-40 might have started to make a difference when the old guard starts dying off or grows too old to fight.

Britain was in India for 150 years and it was barely enough.

The Yemeni civil war has been going on for like a decade. It's been reported on plenty. The situation with the boat has been reported on plenty too, although people were pretty tired of hearing about the war in Yemen by the time is became a known issue.

> How did this go unnoticed and unreported for so long?

It’s been reported on for a while, I first noticed article about it last year.


Someone deleted their comment with the google maps link, but it's conveniently located next to the "Yemen Company For Flour Mills And Silos" aka "big pile of explosive and flammable powders that's a critical food source for the region".


I'm also reminded of the SS Richard Montgomery, which is another "if we leave this for a generation maybe it will go away" situation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Richard_Montgomery

There's no chance the ship poses a risk of burning those grain silos. If it explodes, it won't go up like the port of Beirut, it'll just kill people on the ship and quite possibly spill large quantities of oil into the sea. The risk to the flour mill is shipping through that port would be stopped for quite some time and if there was a large burning oil slick the surrounding area could be evacuated.

Explosion would require a degree of air fuel mixture so that the reaction can go quickly. The vapor from evaporation of the oil could explode but not a million barrels of oil itself. So the number may have been used to conjure up a misleading picture if the intention is to emphasize the magnitude of a possible explosion. That being said, oil spill and uncontrolable fire are all very real risks, just not as exciting as explosions.

The cargo tanks would normally have a vapour space made of exhaust gas (inert gas) from the boiler which is less than 5% oxygen. However, this ship's inert gas system broke down years ago so it probably has a flammable atmosphere in its cargo tanks.

Potentially the crude has weathered off so much over the years that it's no longer degassing, and less scientifically I think if the tank vapours haven't found an ignition source yet, they probably won't.

However corrosion never sleeps. The cargo tanks don't leak straight into the sea; you have ballast tanks too. If I had to guess, the next threat might be a leak into the pump room resulting in fire.

But ships have a periodic inspection regime under that they call "class rules" - this ship hasn't been in class for 5 years.

That is an insane period of time to be carrying hydrocarbon while being out of class.

There are hundreds of threats to this tanker and it is difficult to predict how it could fail, including complete loss of the vessel.

Most likely scenario is a breakdown of the containment and spill or fire, potentially huge. During the fire, multiple explosions may occur worsening it.

Explosion in the first place requires enormous amounts of oxygen. Even with inert atmosphere replaced with air, the volume is just too low.

The primary explosion risk is from fuel vapours (from the stored oil) however the ensuing heat and shockwave forces should the fuel vapour detonate has several potential knock on effects.

The initial primary explosion could cause significant enough destruction to the ship that it acts like the “scatter charge” in a thermobaric weapon, spreading the undetonated oil sufficiently into the air that a larger percentage of the onboard oil is detonated as part of a “single event”…

However the more likely and no less disastrous outcome is the primary explosion of the fuel vapour damages the ship without sinking it (the explosion will be centred on the upper portion of the storage tanks) most likely blowing the top off of one (or more) of the storage tanks and potentially damaging the structural integrity of the ship without sinking it. An extremely likely outcome from this will be ignition of whatever remains of the oil in a burst storage tank, (which even if not “burst open” will likely have been structurally damaged so that fresh air can get in) leading to a fire onboard and due to the established lack of maintenance, that fire has a high likelihood of spreading through much of the ship (possibly aided by any oil movement induced by the primary explosion) which will heat up any undamaged storage vessels and turn them into (depending on the state of the pressure relief valve maintenance) potential pressure cookers full of fuel or sources of further burning fuel vapour…

So I don’t think they were trying to necessarily mislead as much as simplify the scenario for the audience. Most people don’t find it interesting to dissect cascading failures and map out the energetic potential effects. Most people would be fine saying “it blew up” even if it was technically two or three individual explosions interspersed between hours of being on fire before one final still in tact hot tank of oil went off like a pressure cooker turning into a fuel air explosion that shredded the ship into shrapnel.

The initial primary explosion could cause significant enough destruction to the ship that it acts like the “scatter charge” in a thermobaric weapon, spreading the undetonated oil sufficiently into the air that a larger percentage of the onboard oil is detonated as part of a “single event”…

Oil doesn't detonate, even if scattered by an explosion. Fuel-air explosions require very specific conditions it's entirely unlikely those conditions could be met with crude oil. Thermobaric weapons use chemicals like ethylene oxide that are: 1) highly volatile, 2) easily dispersed [no thick like oil], 3) have a very broad air-fuel mixture range which is flammable.

Could the vapor explode and spread burning oil everywhere? Sure.

Could it explode, distributing microscopic oil particles in such a way to sustain a fuel-air explosion? Highly unlikely.

That’s a good point about it being crude oil and crude oil not detonating. Detonate was probably the wrong word to use later on in the chain of events, they will have much more in common with a movie/tv special effects “explosion” (lots of smoke and fire with a smaller boom) than a proper “explosive detonation” but minus the point about supersonic detonation shockwaves there’s still a terrifying chain of events that all start with either fire or fuel vapour explosion and lead to lots of fire, spilled oil and almost likely a sunk ship.

Jet fuel can’t melt steel beams either, and yet…

Regardless of the failure mode, there’s probably a few that people haven’t thought of yet.

And yet it can weaken them severely beyond design limits.

It's extremely unlikely that dispersed oil will detonate. It can deflagrate i.e. burn rapidly in a great fireball.

Which, when looking at Hollywood movies, is considered "an explosion" by most "common people".

Yes, but when explaining it to more advanced audience you should not use technical vocabulary in a wrong way.

"Before inerting became a commonplace safety measure, in the nineteen-seventies, tankers blew up surprisingly often, and with lethal consequences: in December, 1969, three of them exploded within seventeen days, killing four men"

He didn't say they couldn't explode, he said the fuel itself can't explode, because there's not enough air and it's not vaporized.

Liquids can't burn in air, only gasses can.

(Technically it's possible to make a liquid oxidizer and evenly mix it into the fuel, in which case it should be able to burn, but that's not something that can happen normally as there are very few room temperature liquid oxidizers. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triethylborane and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triethylaluminium ))

Every surface area of a liquid is essentially a gas due to vaporization, which is why oil spills burn.

More importantly, high enough temperature and if you're unlucky the metals in the ship turn out to be thermite...

Metals aren't thermite, even more so you need tremendously high temperatures, and it needs to be sustained. Finally, liquid surfaces only burn if there is enough air firstly and enough temperature to sustain the flame. Dumping a match into a vat of kerosene will put out the match.

Can (presuambly) crude oil "explode" if it's not mixed with air? It's been many years since I did chemistry but I have a vague recollection about "rapid exothermic" reactions requiring certain conditions, and crude oil in its thick gloopy liquid state definitely doesn't have that no matter how much oxygen you throw at it. It will just burn.

> The vapor from evaporation of the oil could explode but not a million barrels of oil itself.

So that scene in "The Equalizer" when Denzel Washington blows up that oil tanker would in reality become a massive oil spill, or fire?

That would have been a strange plot twist, the equalizer himself being the cause of a massive environmental disaster :-)

Not the first movie where the writers fell asleep behind the wheel just as they were arriving at their destination.

Remember when the protagonist in Surrogates caused sudden, global economic and infrastructural collapse, possibly killing billions of people off-screen, just because he wanted to have richer sex with his wife?

> just because he wanted to have richer sex with his wife?

Who can blame him :-)

Your suspension of disbelief may survive with nothing more than superficial burns if you assume that Denzel Washington's character has planted a large amount of high explosives on board which dispersed and ignited the fuel that was on board :)

So it could be true; that's reassuring :-)

I'm no expert but, reading other comments, there'd be an explosion from various vapors, but that would only represent a fraction; if the oil catches fire it'd be huge, and the rest would spill out causing a massive environmental disaster.

Yeah, the CNG ships seem a lot sketchier than an oil tanker.

A quick search suggests that the world uses close to 100M barrels a day, of which the largest user, the US, uses about 20M.

So this ship stores an amount that fuels about 1% of the world for a day.

How many such ships are there, and how many are in as bad a state as this one?

https://www.statista.com/statistics/468405/global-oil-tanker... has you covered; over 2000. I do think oil tankers are less than ideal and that "they" prefer direct oil pipelines from oil fields to refineries.

100M barrels?! Where do we even get that stuff? I know the earth is large, but…

That’s a 1km x 1km x 1km cube of oil every 60 days.

That doesn’t seem sustainable…

And when you factor in coal usage, it is t going to be pretty.

This ship is unfortunately not alone in the world. Here is another one:


In addition, it is also important to remember that the ship is itself rusting due to a lack of maintenance, and it is only a matter of time before the oil enters the sea.

> The Houthi leadership has obstructed efforts by foreign entities to inspect the ship or to siphon its oil

For anyone else whose mind jumped to the same conclusion as mine.

They don't want others stealing their oil, but they're likely to lose it too if they don't transfer it somewhere safer (no pun intended), so it's definitely a strange situation with tons of politics involved.

It would probably be best just to buy it off them. Sure it's money going to a possible despotic regime (I am pretty ignorant about the sides in this conflict), but that happens all the time with "development" grants and the like.

Or contaminate the tanks with something that breaks it down the crude so its at least less harmful when it spills.

It concerns me that people disagree with a valid means of protecting against catastrophic environmental disasters. Oh well.

Or bomb them. (Not the ship, them.) Because when a group who rules an area is doing something that, when continued, is going to cause you serious harm and diplomatic measures have failed, that's called an act of war (or the equivalent for non-state actors). If someone is committing acts of war against you, you go to war with them (and somehow I don't think this particular war will result in lots of US casualties).

This is what war is for.

You don't think they have been bombed enough? Did it work? Maybe the US learned something from the recent wars they waged and, with admirable consistency, lost.

The biggest thing the US should learn from recent wars is "do what you went there to do, then leave and don't try to engage in any nation building".

And they're still around, so no, they haven't been bombed enough. Dead people don't hold ships hostage.

You may want to read some news about the area - they are already being bombed. That is what started this whole issue in the first place, it's not likely to help end it. By and large, people who you are actively bombing are way less likely to listen to what you are shouting over the bombs.

It’s also a bargaining chip. They can scuttle the ship and close suez for months, costing billions and killing hundreds of thousands.

That's a fast-tracked one-way ticket to being blown off of the planet by the united force of every world superpower.

You really don't want the Americans and the Russians to ever agree that your atoms don't deserve to be bonded together anymore.

It’s literally mentioned in the article

That'd be all out war. I'm not sure they are that insane.

It’s like a nuclear bomb. Quite powerful even if you can never use it.

They are in an all out war. Yemen is a war zone on par with where Syria was during the Obama regime.

Question: has there been any decent and uncorrupt Arab government? Everyone criticizes Western "imperialism", but it seems the lives of most people in the Middle East were much better when under British rule?

Has not been a supertanker since 1987. Since then it has been only a floating oil storage tank, without engines.


That’s worse: empty tanks contain air and oil vapours which CAN explode.

Storage tanks at this scale are more than inert vessels. They would have accommodated that during the conversion process.

And you still haven't notified them?!

In this weeks episode of Mythbusters . . . .

Americans should worry less about oil tankers and more about their ageing and decrepit pipeline infrastructure.

If they have no diesel for generators, what about solar panels? Even the old used ones. They have enough of sun

> You must give consent to targeting tracking to see this content.

No thank you.


Personally I've simply set up archive.today as a custom search engine in my browser exactly for situations like this. Take the original URL, chuck it in the archiver and read away.

Thanks for mentioning this, it made he check if there was a duckduckgo bang for this and yep, !ais URL works.

Reader Mode in Firefox gets around the problem. What's the equivalent for Brave/Chrome?

Really clicks are so important these days? This article proves nothing except that dangerous catastrophe can happen.

People don't even realize how potentially dangerous is gasoline station a few blocks away or fertilizers magazine just outside their town or department of chemistry on the nearby University.

For some reason those dangers are not (yet) that sexy to be described in the alarmistic article.

None of those examples you listed have as wide ranging consequences as this ship blowing up, sinking or leaking. Any of those events would have severe consequences for the region and, to a lesser extent, the entire world, as the article lays out pretty clearly (starting at “The Safer threatens not only the ecosystems of the Red Sea but also the lives of millions of people.”)


I've dived on the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia, not too far from where the tanker in question is anchored, and I've rarely seen a similar density of fish or coral.


so nothing to see, please keep walking?

All Iran has to do is make it known that they want this fixed. They control that area. The IRGC must not want it fixed.

300 Kilotons of oil per supertanker

42 Terajoules per kiloton of oil * 300 = 12.6 Petajoules

12.6 Petajoules = 3 Megatons of TNT

Except it doesnt work like that at all. Oil does not explode like that. The oil vapours which float on top of the oil and mix with oxygen can explode, but thats just a teeny tiny portion of the ships volume. It could crack open however, which is arguably much worse.

Yes, but one of the awesome properties of oil, that have made it such a great fuel, is that you can't normally get all that energy out of it in one huge burst. One of the reasons is that the majority of that energy is not stored in the oil itself in some sense, it is stored in Oxygen in the air. There was recently a chemistry paper on this subject that contained exact numbers, but I haven't been able to find it again.

Basically oil alone is not a great source of energy, oil+oxygen is; and it's very hard to get a mix of oxygen and thick crude oil.

Hmm, so the explosion is not larger than a small hydrogen bomb even if it can combust all the fuel with 100% efficiency, which will never happen.

Seems unlikely that an explosion is the largest worry.

Okay, positive attitude: We congeal the oil in situ in the tanks into plastic-blocks. It renders the ship unuseable but the ship is already unusable, but it at least reduces the hazard on final breaking apart.

PS: I lost my bet, i had a bet, that 5 months after we are out of Afghanistan, the warmongering would start again.

Damn it.

We embargoe a regime, its infrastructure is falling into disrepair, and now that disrepair is a reason to go in? Whats next?

Pothole repair jobs with bunker-busters in Iran? Infrastructure demolishion and rebuilding as a service via the Military Industrial Complex? A construction company called the MOAB-mob?

If the saudis mercenaries cant win and they don't get the genocide properly done, at least pay for better bad journalism to draw the US into another firefight/fist-aid mission.

> the warmongering would start again

It never stopped? The war in Yemen has been going for years, and the China hawks seem to have survived the change in US government just fine.

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