A new oil slick appeared in Fujairah waters on 14 September 2008, the result of another dumping from a rogue oil tanker.
This raises the number of oil slicks along the UAE’s east coast to at least 15 so far this year.
Fuad Ali’s Gulf News report (15 September 2008) indicated that the damage was not as great as the previous incidents and noted Ali Qasim of the Environmental Department at the Fujairah Municipality downplaying the significance of the September slick. It was unfortunate for these authorities and Gulf News that the article bore the title, ‘Authorities Unperturbed by New Oil Slick in Fujairah’.
The same report did not minimise the angst expressed by the Le Meredien CEO about the two kilometer slick who hinted at the cost of cleanup activities and the extensive damage to tourist numbers visiting the east coast. Further reports in The National elaborated on the anger of tourists who found themselves swimming in the oily waters.
An Opinion piece in The National (15 September 2008) declared that there were ‘No Excuses for these Oil Slicks’ and judged that current monitoring measures were ineffective and unacceptable:
“The [Fujairah] Municipality lacks both the monitoring equipment and the policing systems employed by those other ports. This is unacceptable; both are essential.”
The report went on to say that Fujairah Municipality monitoring and policing must be fortified by a collaborative response with regional and federal governments.
One glimmer of hope in this oil dumping saga appeared in Hugh Naylor’s article in The National (15 September 2008) entitled, ‘Fishermen Join Dumping Fight’. This report announced the reaching of an historic stage as fishermen took the first photographs which they claim shows a ship illegally dumping large amounts of oil for nearly an hour.
The article indicated a change of attitude with the Fujairah authorities no longer ‘unperturbed’ and downplaying the damage of the oil slick but “aggressively pursuing the case” and pledging to do “whatever is necessary to find out who did this.” Mohammed al Afham, the Fujairah municipality’s general manager confirmed, “We will not hesitate to use the law to protect our coast and our environment.”
While the new enthusiasm of the Fujairah authorities is to be applauded the report voiced the feelings of the fishermen which have been echoing for months in the minds of many:
“The fishermen complained that in spite of their efforts to help the Port of Fujairah and Coast Guard catch the polluters, authorities had shown insufficient interest until now.”
While Naylor’s report was not specific about the location of the offending ship it revealed the brazen attitude of the oil tanker captain that was offloading oil in broad daylight, not in the cover of darkness.
This incident that appears to have occurred within easy reach of the fishermen and the shoreline seems to have put paid to the usual chorus that such oil dumpings take place far out in international waters which has been repeatedly expressed to excuse the impotence of the local authorities in locating and apprehending the offenders.
Progress is being made slowly on oil slick monitoring off the coast of Fujairah but notably by fishermen who have a vested interest, not by the authorities officially appointed to guard against this oozing catastrophe.
Dr Geoff Pound
Image: Some fishermen on the UAE east coast.