Gulf Dove, a Decayed Ship Threatening the Coast of Socotra South Yemen


September 6, 2022

Bassam Alqadi 

Photo of Gulf Dove rotting and abandoned on the coast of Delisha, Socotra - ACSYS - Magdi bin Qablan 

Yemen's protracted conflict continues to pose major environmental concerns, with persistent issues with oil infrastructure and a lack of environmental management efforts. The current worldwide focus is primarily on finding a solution for the aging oil ship FSO SAFER, which is carrying over 1 million barrels of oil and is in danger of sinking, causing a widespread environmental disaster. However, smaller incidents involving oil tankers in Aden, Mukalla, and Socotra South Yemen have also increased in recent years, causing environmental damage and threatening the livelihoods of the local residents. This investigative report will cover the decaying ship off the coast of Socotra Island.

In early November 2019, the waves swept a dilapidated ship called the 'Gulf Dove' carrying approximately 7000 metric tons of oil derivatives onto the coast of Delisha, east of the capital of Socotra, Hadibo. From that period until now, the relevant government bodies, including the General Authority for Maritime Affairs and the General Authority for Environmental Protection, have not taken any measures to remove the ship.

The General Authority for Maritime Affairs inspection reports indicate that the tanker belongs to 'Abr Albehar Shipping Company' owned by Ahmed al-Essie, a wealthy businessman in oil imports. It also declares it a decrepit ship with no operating permits and unsuitable for sailing.

the deplorable state of the Gulf Dove ship decaying off the coast of Socotra - ACSYS- Magdi Qablan

Dr. Jamal Bawazir, Director of the Department for the Protection of Land and Marine Environment, said, "the successive incidents of oil leaks in recent years and the indifference shown in dealing with them harm the environment and pose a danger to humans and marine resources on the southern coast." The fact that the Gulf Dove tanker has been decaying off the coast of Delisha since 2019 is an affirmation of the extent of inertia and lack of attention to the consequences that may befall the coast of the island, distorting its beautiful image and coral reef that is rich with fish resources. Therefore, urgent measures must be taken to avoid the disasters of these tankers scattered over the waters of the Gulf of Aden, Bawazir added.

The decaying Golf Dove oil tanker poses an environmental threat to the village of Delisha, which lies east of the port of Holf, 15 kilometers from the capital Hadibo, and to the livelihoods of its inhabitants who work in the fishing profession. Left abandoned on the coast also causes damage to the tourism industry in Socotra, the most prominent of the Arab and Yemeni islands.

"We do not have sufficient data and information about the Gulf Dove ship that has been abandoned on the coast of Delisha since 2019, and the carrier's owner and competent authorities are fully responsible for it being there, as it constitutes a criminal offense and a serious threat to the coasts, sea areas and the island in general," says Socotra's port manager, Mohamed Salem Ahmed. 

Although Article 351 of the Yemeni Maritime Law No. 15 of 1994 states that if a ship sank, ran aground, or was abandoned within Yemeni territorial waters, its captain, owner, or any person acting in his place must immediately inform the competent maritime authority of the incident, and remove it within three months. If this is not done within the mentioned period, the competent maritime authority, if necessary and without prior notice, can pick up the ship at the expense of the owner of the ship. However, since November 2019, the concerned government authorities have taken no significant legal measures concerning Gulf Dove. 

Salem Hawash, Director of the General Authority for Environmental Protection in Socotra, said that a technical team should go to the abandoned ship and evaluate it on the ground by specialists in the General Authority for Maritime Affairs, with the participation of the General Environmental Protection Authority in the island. While information collected indicates that the owner of the Gulf Dove used it as a floating oil reservoir after it drifted to the coast of Delisha, Salem Hawash denies this, stressing that the ship did not get to the coast intentionally and that it swept onto the coast during the hurricane. However, Hawash forgot that the relevant government regulatory body had not visited the site to investigate the incident since 2019. 

The information we collected indicates a leak of mixed oil residues had been caused by the Gulf Dove, which poses a threat to the coasts, marine life, local population, the environment, and fishermen. Salem Hawash acknowledged that no specialized team had conducted a field visit during the past three years to inspect the abandoned ship on the coast of Delisha and verify the leak. He attributed the failure to investigate the incident by the General Authority for Maritime Affairs and the General Authority for Environmental Protection to the political and administrative vacuum the island had experienced over the past three years. He added that since the appointment of the new governor on August 1, 2022, they are trying to form a technical team to review it and evaluate its current state closely and that legal action will be taken on the incident. 

New photos taken in August 2022, exclusively for ACSYS, by the Socotri photographer, Magdi bin Qablan, show the Gulf Dove ship still abandoned on the coast of Delisha east of the port of Holf, precisely beside the well of Dajfoof, 15 km from Hadibo, in a very rusty and dilapidated state. Environmental researcher and project leader at PAX Peace Organization, Wim Zwijnenburg, also highlighted the dangers and dilapidated state of Gulf Dove in a series of tweets. 

Gulf Dove ship - exclusive photo- ACSYS - Magdi Qablan

Environment consultant Ahmad Saeed Sulaiman says that Gulf Dove crashing onto the shore loaded with thousands of tons of oil derivatives is the most significant environmental disaster of Ras Halof beach. For months the waves pulled and pushed the ship on and off the coast of Delisha, crushing the coral reef under it, while ignored by the ship's operators. He added that even before it crashed, the Gulf Dove posed a danger to the coast because of the negligence of its operators, specifically by using primitive methods to unload oil from the ship. Using old hoses to pump oil without any safety tools or measures in case of an oil leak or accident is primitive and reckless. Pumping should be made by special floats keeping the line visible on the water's surface so the technical team can respond fast in the event of an oil leak. 

Primitive way of offloading the Gulf Dove - ACSYS - Ahmed Saeed Suliaman

"The effects of the primitive process of offloading oil also change the environment of the shore by dumping thousands of tons of sand to engage the nut, load it, and unload the ship, and this shows the negligence and indifference of the ship's operators toward the dangers of pollution of the seawater," says Sulaiman. 

Sulaiman also confirmed that the ship is currently inoperable after the significant damages that occurred to its body and engine (which is leaking) after its first impact with rocks on the coast of Delisha. "The ship's rotting iron under water and the unknown chemicals, ship waste, and oil derivatives left on it represent environmental hazards to marine organisms and disrupt their shelter," Sulaiman added.


Offloading oil from Gulf Dove - Socotra - ACSYS - Ahmed Suliaman

The Gulf Dove IMO 8509416 is a dilapidated Tanzanian-flagged chemical/oil tanker built in Japan in 1985, formerly named Chun xing168 and Oceanbee (Oceanmeg), according to vessel finder tracking sites. Its length is 107 meters, width of 18 meters, belonging to the Islamic Bank of Sheba in Sana'a. In May 2015, it transferred ownership to Abr Albehar Shiping Company, owned by oil tycoon Ahmed al-Essie, then washed onto the coasts of Socotra Island in November 2019 and is currently a marine wreck on the coast of Delisha Socotra.

Ahmed al-Essie owns several dilapidated ships in the ports of Aden and Mukalla; some are anchored in the port, while others have sunk, causing irreversible damage to the coast and environment.

The reports of the General Authority for Maritime Affairs indicate that all 12 ships that are dilapidated and threatened with sinking on the coast of Aden are all expired, unregistered, have no flags, do not have operating permits, and have been suspended from maritime navigation prior to the start of the war in Yemen in March 2015, and all of them belong to al-Essie's Abr Albehar Shiping Company. PAX Peace Organization detailed the threat posed by these ships and the recent leak caused by the Pearl of Athena at the Bay of Tawahi, Aden.

Nine years ago, the Champaion1 tanker, a decrepit and out-of-service ship, dropped below standards and is legally considered unsuitable for sailing. It is also managed and owned by al-Essie's Abr Albehar Shipping Company and flies the Sierra Leone flag. It is 96 meters long and 16 meters wide. On July 9, 2013, it left the Port of Aden to Mukalla Port with 4,770 metric tons of diesel fuel from the Aden Refinery, and it crashed on the coast of Mukalla in the Mshraif area on July 10, 2013. 

The director of the General Authority for Environmental Protection branch in Hadramaut, Salem Baquhizel, revealed that the amount of diesel remaining in the tanks of Champion1, which is threatened with splitting in half, is estimated to be 1000-1500 metric tons of diesel. He added that a real environmental and marine disaster awaits the city of Mukalla; if no immediate measures are taken to avoid this disaster before the end of 2022.

On August 16, 2022, the General Authority for Maritime Affairs and the Arabian Sea Ports Corporation issued a statement in the official November 30 Newspaper, calling on the owners of the sunken and abandoned ships at the ports of Mukalla and Mahra (it did not mention Socotra), to quickly remove the wreckage of their ships from the ports within fifteen days of the announcement under the provisions of the Yemeni Maritime Law No. 15 of 1994, or they will be removed at the expense of their owners.

Data journalist and fact checker, Farouk Moqbel al-Kamali, said: "The issue of oil tankers and oil derivatives belonging to the Abr Albehar Shipping Company, all of which are subsidiaries of businessman al-Essie, is a thorny one. More than 15 oil tankers have become marine waste, and on top of that are laden with tons of toxic and deadly hydrocarbons."

In 2008, the island of Socotra is one of the largest Arab and Yemeni islands, which was listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for its rich biodiversity; there are more than 900 species of plants, 37% of which are endemic, which is not found anywhere else in the world. More than 290 bird species, 11 species are endemic, about 680 species of fish, 230 solid coral reefs (5 of which are endemic), 30 soft coral reef species, 300 crustaceans (7 of which are endemic), 490 mollusks, 230 algae, and others.

Dr. Abdul Qader Al-Kharaz, professor of environmental impact assessment at Hodeidah University and former head of the General Authority for Environmental Protection, said, "the Gulf Dove's presence on the coast of Delisha since 2019 poses real environmental risks to the World Heritage-listed island".

"The survival of the dilapidated ship poses significant risks to the marine environment and the coastal environment in Delisha, where coral reefs are scattered, and there is a great diversity of fish. The ship's eroded hull will lead to poisoning and possibly the death of fish in the region, besides affecting the population who work mainly in fishing. It also contains oil, along with the derivatives stored in it. Even if they are small quantities, they will have an impact when it leaks, and the leaks have occurred by decrepit ships belonging to al-Essie, in many other sites, in Mukalla, and on the shores of Aden", Al-Kharaz added.


In conclusion, the Gulf Dove, which has been abandoned on the coast of Socotra since 2019, the Champion1 in Al-Mukalla Hadramaut, and all of the deteriorating tankers and vessels that are at risk of sinking off the coast of Aden are all examples of ships that are "below the standards" and are legally considered unsuitable for sailing in accordance with articles 350, 351, and 355, respectively, of the Maritime Act No. 15 of 1994, in addition with the provisions of Act No. 16 of 2004 on the preservation of the maritime environment against pollution. However, due to corruption and government negligence, these ships sail without any monitoring or proper inspections, and when they crash, they are abandoned by their owners on shore. Their presence impedes navigation, threatens national security, and negatively affects the environment. 

In light of the dangers posed by the oil tanker Safer, we must not ignore the dangers posed by the many dilapidated ships leaking and threatened with sinking off the coasts of Aden, Al-Mukalla, and Socotra. It is incumbent on the international community and the government of Yemen to remove these abandoned ships and protect the environment and the inhabitants of the coastal cities of South Yemen from the coming disaster.

Bassam Al-Qadi

Bassam is a scientific researcher and journalist covering climate and environmental issues. For this report, he conducted interviews with respective journalists, government authority representatives, and local activists.