Fujairah Collage

Fujairah Collage
Some distinctive landmarks in Fujairah

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Further Oil Spillages Call for Urgent Action

Oil on Fujairah Beaches Again
Another ‘oil spill’ has washed onto Fujairah beaches only three weeks since the last major ‘oil spill’.

The damage to the diving, hotel and tourist industries is colossal. With the regular and relentless oil spills on the UAE’s East Coast, people would be stupid to buy so called ‘fresh fish’ from the local markets unless they like it soused in crude oil. But the long term environmental damage makes these frequent ‘oil spills’ catastrophic.

Oil Spills or Oil Drains?
To speak of an ‘oil spill’ is to suggest that the act was accidental or unintentional e.g. ‘Oops! I’ve split coffee on my shirt’; ‘See if you can pour the juice into your glass without spilling it’.

We need to stop calling oil on the beaches an ‘oil spillage’ and start speaking of ship owners deliberately draining their oil slops into the sea. The shipping and oil industries are highly technological so the oil drains at sea are too frequent to call these accidental and unintentional.

Cleaning Process
Before oil tankers are reloaded with a fresh cargo of oil they must have their tanks cleaned. This cleaning takes place out at sea and it involves putting the remains of the old oil cargo into a ‘slop tank’ which is taken by a ‘slop carrier’ and put into a ‘slop farm’ near the port. The tank is cleaned with solvent so what is appearing on the Fujairah waters is often not oil alone but a mixture of old oil and solvent. This procedure takes time to do it properly and it costs money—currently between $500,000-$600,000 depending on the size of the vessel.

Low Fines and High Profits
It is therefore tempting for a sea captain to save half a million dollars by releasing the oil slops into the Fujairah waters during the inky darkness of the night. And with fines for oil spills currently at the level of only $100,000 it is a risk that some rogue ship owners think is worth taking.

In the fluctuating price climate of oil futures, time is of the essence so whatever a ship owner can do to minimize the amount of time anchored in the Fujairah waters can look very attractive. The issue is accentuated at this time when there is a shortage of oil tankers in the world.

Urgent Action Proposed
With 150-300 ships at any time out from Fujairah and with these numbers due to escalate it is getting increasingly difficult to identify the culprits under the present system.

Fujairah is already being called ‘the biggest bunkering port in the world’ and with new oil refineries, terminals and oil pipelines being built, it is urgent that something be done to stop the willful draining of oil slops into the ocean.

The fine for oil spills must be increased and must be to a level that is significantly higher than the cost of cleaning the tank and depositing the oil slops properly into the slop carrier.

Furthermore, a more effective policing mechanism must be instituted with more police boats on patrol and creating a climate of high vigilance.

This will cost money but with the bunkering business now worth billions of dollars it is proportional. Otherwise the significant oil revenue that is coming to the UAE will be at great expense to the tourism, diving and fishing industries. Most importantly is the need to safeguard the priceless environment on the UAE’s East Coast.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Oil tanker.

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