Oil spill devastates resort coast of Egypt

Jun 29, 2010 02:00 AM

A devastating oil spill in the Red Sea has polluted beaches along the Egyptian resort coast known as "British Hurghada". Environmentalists report that "incredible damage" has also been done to birds, turtles and other marine life.
The spill was first sighted by environmentalists on June 19 and traced back to an offshore rig operated by the Geisum Oil Company, a subsidiary of the state-owned Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation.

There has so far been no official statement, but petroleum minister Sameh Fahmy claims privately that the source of the "leak" is unknown. However, private laboratory tests reveal that the oil found on the beaches and the oil leaking from the rig are a match. State oil company officials also claimed that the leak had been capped.
The rig is sited offshore near the island of Geisum, a rocky outcrop lying 35 km off the Egyptian coast. Although the spill was first noticed swirling around the legs of the rig, no efforts were made to contain it.

An environmental monitor who examined the coastal damage, has claimed "the government is planning a cover-up". He reported that hundreds of birds and turtles have died since the spill began. Dolphins, which frequent the area, renowned by divers for coral formations, are also affected.
Disasters of this kind, whether resulting from the activities of state-owned enterprises or private companies, are seldom officially acknowledged by the government here. Resort owners and diving centres based along the coast say they have already lodged complaints with Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif.

Fahmy and junior environment minister Maged George visited the area and took charge of a hurried, land-based, clean-up operation that now extends to Al Gouna, some 50 km south. This town, with a population of 10 000, is situated on a series of islands and lagoons and was the brainchild of billionaire Naguib Sawiris.
The site of the largest residential investment in Egypt, Al Gouna includes holiday homes, luxury hotels and a marina. A network of canals, that allow individual homes to have their own strip of beach, is also now threatened. Fears are that, if news of the oil slick is widely publicised there could be mass cancellations of summer holiday bookings from Europe, even if the beaches are cleared over the next few weeks.

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