Major UAE oil spill

Jan 12, 1998 01:00 AM

A heavy oil spill from a barge which sank off the coast of the UAE has polluted beaches and threatens marine and bird life, according to UAE officials and shipping companies.
The 11,000-tonne-capacity barge ran aground in high winds when a tow rope to its tug escort snapped, spilling around 4,000 tonnes of fuel oil into Gulf waters.
Delays in salvaging the barge and the growing environmental impact of the slick have provoked sharp criticism of local and federal authorities, particularly after it emerged that the barge was not designed to carry oil but dry cargo.
"Little effort has been made to fight the oil slick as the area is facing a real marine and environmental crisis ... What I have seen ... is a big natural catastrophe," said Abdulla Bu Rweidha, a municipalities' adviser.
"We appeal to the federal authorities and local departments concerned to double their efforts and work out an integrated strategy to fight the oil slick before it leaves its very serious impacts on marine and plant life," he added.
State-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) said it had immediately sent out experts and equipment to limit the effects of pollution. A team of six divers has completed work sealing 19 of the barge's 24 compartments which were carrying fuel oil before it sank, industry sources said.
The other five tanks, which had lost their covers, were the main source of the spill.
"The barge cannot be left at the bottom in 20 metres (66 feet) of water because she will break up eventually. It will have to be salvaged," said a manager at UAE-based Diver Maintenance Marine, which sent a diving team to the site.
"She is sitting slightly up on the front end, oil could easily break up between the deck ... There is still a lot of oil in her," he added.
A manager at the local White Sea Shipping and Supply Company said the firm had submitted plans to federal authorities to drain the sunken barge of its trapped oil by using pumps. "The priority is to pump out the oil," said the manager.
Environmental consultants had been flown in from Britain to help the clean-up attempt which would involve using chemical dispersants to break up the heavy oil, possibly from helicopters as well as boats, shipping firms in the UAE said.
The black sludge hitting the UAE's northern coast had kept local fishermen in harbour, covered rocks and threatened thousands of mangrove trees and dependent marine life.
The slick has also killed sea snakes, crabs and covered beaches with some two cm of oil in places.
Birds and fish have been found dead on local beaches.
"The heavy layer of crude oil...is not only threatening thousands of mangrove trees but has already killed millions of fish larvae," Gulf News quoted Ahmed Abdul Rehman al Janahi, of the Umm al-Quwain Marine Resources Research Centre as saying.
Tourists staying at beach resorts in the emirate of Ajman, opposite where the barge sank, checked out of hotels because of oil-drenched beaches and the smell of petroleum.
Ownership of the barge was still unclear as was the origin of the fuel but some shippers said they believed the fuel oil had come from Iraq and was destined for a UAE port.

Source: not available
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