Fujairah Collage

Fujairah Collage
Some distinctive landmarks in Fujairah

Friday, June 13, 2008

Drilling Down into Oil Dumping Problem

The work that journalist, Hugh Naylor and others at The National are doing on the oil dumping issue illustrates why the newspaper, in such a short time, has become a valuable asset to Fujairah and the United Arab Emirates.

Naylor has been covering the far-too-frequent oil slicks appearing on the Fujairah beaches this year but he has gone beyond the mere reporting of events, to the interviewing of the key players and an investigation ways that the oil dumping might be solved.

Recently The National has posted these informative stories:

Spill Solution, 11 June 2008
This editorial indicates that current monitoring methods are not working. Not one dumping has been traced to an oil tanker. No prosecutions! There is only one single satellite used for monitoring the region but this is old technology, obviously not reflecting the ‘can-do’ attitude of the modern Emirates. The article says that surveillance cannot be left to volunteers and passing ships. Who is going to blow the whistle on another ship captain? The editorial says that there have been offers of help made but the Fujairah officials have not shown any interest.

The Valentine Should Have its Day, 11 June 2008
Hugh Naylor reports the story of Andrey Malinin whose plane the Valentine is equipped with ultraviolet and infrared sensors that can easily detect the oil. It also has equipment to spray neutralizing chemicals needed to break up the oil in the waters. The Valentine has made almost daily flights to the UAE east coast but Malinin has been unable to convince the Fujairah authorities to allow him to monitor the coastline and pay his basic costs. Mr. Malinin is on standby but the Fujairah authorities are not acting and according to Malinin have been inaccessible. It is unfortunate that Fujairah authorities, despite being contacted, have not recognized the urgency, have not responded to this offer or come up with a more effective solution to combat this major environment catastrophe.

Interactive: Cleaning up the Oil in Fujairah, 12 June 2008
Take a look at this interactive. It is simple and informative, helping readers to see the connection between surveillance and clean-up and underscoring the need for urgency when an oil spill is detected. This interactive must be a first for a UAE newspaper and it illustrates the value of an online newspaper.

Oil Washes up on Fujairah Beaches, 3 June 2008.
This video posted earlier in the month gives a visual insight into the problem, especially as it relates to oil affecting waters and beaches adjacent to Fujairah coastland hotels. The interviews highlight the frustration that is being experienced by people earning a living on the coastline and why tourists have been discouraged to make Fujairah their resort destination.

Some of the questions still hanging and other observations include the following:

Why are the Fujairah authorities so inattentive to this problem and to offers of assistance when the current approach is ineffective, harming the environment and costing local hoteliers, diving companies thousands of dirhams in clean up procedures and loss of tourist and recreational revenue?

Why have Fujairah authorities not prosecuted any oil tanker captains? Have they not been able to link spill to tanker or are they reluctant to do anything to impede the oil business that is bringing enormous revenue to the Fujairah coffers? If there is an element of favouring this major industry there must be policing measures that are independent of the local authorities.

As oil is dumped in international and national waters and washes up on a coastline overseen by the Fujairah and Sharjah municipalities and UAE and Omani authorities, how can there be effective coordination of surveillance, prosecution and clean up which is clear and which incorporates the valuable input of all agencies? Legal input will also be essential to come up with a solution that appropriately links international and national laws.

The Valentine method is commendable but surveillance and cleaning up procedures must be in place 24 hours a day, taking photographs that will trace oil spills back to the tanker and which can be used in court for prosecutions. Satellite and plane surveillance will need to combine as part of the deterrence that will make rogue sea captains think again before they are tempted to dump oil slops into the briny.

The Malinin offer is seeking approval to monitor and be paid to do surveillance and aerial clean ups of the waters. But the clean up operation on the Fujairah foreshore and beaches is another task and it has been deemed the responsibility of hotels and diving companies. This is messy and it adds to the cost and frustration of local operators (See this article in The National). Who is responsible for cleaning up the waters and beaches where there are no hotels and diving companies? It appears that federal agencies get involved when an oil spill is of such magnitude that it is beyond the resources of a local municipality. The result of all these players can so easily lead to passing the buck, a slow reaction whenever there is a spill and an uneven standard in the cleanup operation. If the local emirate was responsible for the cleanup (not the hoteliers and diving companies), it might lead to much higher penalties for offending sea captains and oil companies (as deterrence and to recoup costs) and an effective method of policing and prosecution.

The team at The National must be congratulated for the high quality of their investigative journalism. Much has been uncovered. Questions still remain. Action must be taken. This is a major issue for Fujairah and the UAE that requires a comprehensive and urgent solution.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Andrey Malinin before the Valentine that is equipped and ready to go. Photo courtesy of The National.

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