Fujairah Collage

Fujairah Collage
Some distinctive landmarks in Fujairah

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Effective National Plan Needed to Stop Oil Dumping in Fujairah Waters

Tweeting Slicks

If Twitter trends indicate what people are thinking, the ‘oil spilling’ in Fujairah waters and beaches are dominating Fujairah-related tweets this weekend.

Unfortunately, the oft-tweeted 29 April 2011 Gulf News article, ‘Oil Slick Off Fujairah Traced to International Waters’ contains errors, minimizes the seriousness of the crime, underestimates the damage caused by the oil and amounts to a ‘washing of the hands’ and a shrugging of the shoulders as if nothing can be done by the UAE.

‘If the Situation is Serious’

The Gulf News article has this sub-heading: ‘Environmental impact not serious’.

It quotes the Minister of Environment and Water saying, “The matter will be referred to federal bodies if the situation is serious.”

These ‘not serious’ statements come ten days after the tide brought the first wave of oil onto the Al Aqah beaches all the way from the Rotana Hotel to Snoppy Island. The oil was reported by divers on Tuesday 19 April. In an article on Wednesday 20 April entitled, ‘Oil Washes onto Beaches at Al Aqah, Fujairah’ the seriousness of the situation was reported with the closing of the hotel beaches and the preliminary signs of damage to Fujairah’s marine environment. Tweets in the twittersphere in those first days indicated that many people were cancelling or postponing their visits to the Al Aqah resorts.

The tide the next day on Wednesday 20 April brought a thicker and longer slick than the Tuesday coating.

The seriousness of the oil dumping is evidenced by the way it is now more than ten days since the original sighting of oil and people are still vigorously tweeting the news of oil on Fujairah beaches.

The seriousness of the oil dumping is emphasized by the way the oil slicks have extended from Al Aqah all the way to Khor Fakkan.

The National reported the gravity of the situation in an article (28 April 2011) by Anna Zacharias entitled, ‘Fujairah Oil Spill Hits Tourist Beaches’.

The journalist pulled no punches when stating the seriousness of this oil pollution:

“An oil slick caused by illegal dumping is one of the worst to hit Fujairah beaches in years, residents say.”

“The spill this week stretches almost 10 kilometres from Khor Fakkan to Al Aqah.”

“The municipality’s clean up operation is expected to cost hundreds of thousands of dirhams. The slick has also damaged tourism in the area.”

“When the oil comes [hotel] guests cannot swim. You cannot even walk on the beaches because of the oil.”

“The Sandy Beach Dive Centre ‘estimates that the company loses Dh 5,000 each day during a heavy oil slick’.”

“It was an unusually increased amount [of oil] that caused disturbance to guests,” Patrick Antaki, general manager of Le Méridien al Aqah hotel said.”

In a period of earlier dumpings (there were more than 15 in 2008) Antaki said that his hotel business drops significantly at the news of an oil slick and it takes 30 days for it to recover.

‘No Serious Damage!’

In addition to saying that the current oil slick was not serious, the Gulf News article quoted the Ministry of Environment and Water saying:

“The amount of oil spilt was not dangerous and that no serious damage or casualties had been reported so far. There are also no reports of fish deaths.”

This is also incorrect. An article posted on 20 April reported on the dead, sea birds covered in oil along the Al Aqah beaches. Divers the next day were reporting on seeing dead fish.

According to the Alkhaleej Arabic paper and the English online Emirates 24/7 the oil “damaged at least 30 boats and killed a large number of fish.”

Divers for a long time have warned UAE leaders of the underwater damage they have witnessed inflicted by oil slicks on the coral reefs and the marine environment.

‘Outside UAE Territorial Waters’

Whenever oil dumping affects the Fujairah coastline the chorus is repeated, as in Friday’s Gulf News article, “It is a consequence of an incident that occurred outside UAE territorial waters.”

The distancing of the situation puts the responsibility far away. Even though in an earlier oil dumping incident, Mohammed al Afham, the General Manager of the Fujairah Municipality, said, “We will not hesitate to use the law to protect our coast and environment” the cry of the oil being ‘outside UAE territorial waters’ renders the Fujairah officials impotent in using the law or it is used as an excuse not to take the issue further.

Surveillance and Detection

Despite calls by Fujairah officials to do “whatever is necessary to find out who did this,” the detection rate over the years has been poor.

In 2008 Hugh Naylor pointed up the ineffectiveness of the Fujairah surveillance system when he wrote:

Fujairah relies on a skeletal monitoring system, with only a few patrol boats and one space satellite that it shares with other Gulf states, making enforcement even more difficult.

The only case where evidence was produced was by Fujairah fishermen who supplied pictures they took of a vessel dumping oil into Fujairah waters.

Nation Oil Dumping Plan Required

This week oil has washed up on Fujairah land (Al Aqah) and Sharjah coastline (Khor Fakkan) but with two municipalities involved this complicates the situation, can duplicate the work and lead to different standards in regulating, cleaning up and bringing offending ship owners to justice.

It was recognised in 2009 that “the UAE does not currently have a plan to deal with or contain oil spills.”

A draft proposal for a UAE plan recommended satellite navigation systems and real time satellite imaging to spot the oil. It was recognised that implementing a state of the art system would be a catalyst for everything else that was needed to follow in the way of accurate detection, applying the law and toughening the penalties that would more effectively deter rogue captains from dumping oil into the sea.

The time for a national plan on oil dumping is well overdue.

High Price of Fujairah Development

In the same week when it was decided that a new Fujairah Free Zone be established for the petroleum industry, the oil dumping along the eastern coastline has tarnished the emirate’s economic boom.

The editorial in The National on 29 April 2011 leveled concerns over the federal and emirate governments neglect in the regulation of shipping traffic and the punishing of those who illegally dump. It asserted:

“Oil-strewn beaches and smouldering industrial waste should not be the price of development. And yet, these are precisely the pictures of progress accumulating in the northern emirates.”

There has been a steady and well-deserved rise in Fujairah’s reputation but the many tweets about this week’s oil dumping and the reposting of articles like this one in online magazines can very quickly ruin what people have worked so hard to build.


Oil Washes onto Beaches at Al Aqah, Fujairah, FIF, 20 April 2011.

Geoff Pound

This article is also posted in the Fujairah in Focus—Facebook Page.

Image: “If Twitter trends indicate what people are thinking, the ‘oil spilling’ in Fujairah waters and beaches are dominating Fujairah-related tweets this weekend.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article. Thank you!

Fujairah and UAE government should take action to prevent such incidents from happening again.