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UAE steps up war on marine pollution

posted on 16/11/2003: 1105 views

The UAE said yesterday it was intensifying its war against marine pollution to protect its waters from oil sludge. The move is also necessary to protect the country's waters from other wastes that threaten its dwindling fish wealth and its naval and coastal economic and oil facilities. Officials from several departments met in Dubai yesterday and discussed a national emergency plan to protect the country's water and coasts against rising pollution levels that have turned the Gulf into one of the most contaminated seas in the world.

The Abu Dhabi-based Federal Environment Agency (FEA), the country's highest environmental body, said representatives from the Ministries of Agriculture and Fisheries, and the Ministry of Communications, as well as officials from all the emirates attended the meeting which focussed on an action plan in the next stage.

"The meeting also covered measures taken by the competent authorities in each emirate to set up emergency squads comprising all relevant bodies as part of the national emergency plan to combat marine pollution," FEA Director Salim Al Dahiri said. "We have been informed that some emirates have completed such measures while others are in the process of taking them," he said after the meeting.

FEA officials said they decided to stage intensive training courses for those involved in the national emergency plan covering many fields, including the proper use of equipment, detection of oil slicks and other pollution, and measures to be taken to combat them. They said the local emergency teams will include representatives from the ports, border and coast guards, oil companies and all other competent establishments.

"We have also decided to gather information about pollution levels, available equipment and needed staff and experts. We will also conduct studies on a continuous action and detection plan and identification of key installations which will be given priority in the anti-pollution protection plan."

He said the meeting, which will be followed by more discussions on the anti-pollution strategy in the UAE's territorial waters, followed a decision of the agency to set up an emergency unit to combat pollution by hundreds of oil tankers and other sources. FEA said last month it set up the unit at its office in Dubai to coordinate information about pollution accidents and combat measures through the UAE.

The unit, called the 'Operation Room for Marine Emergency (ORME)', has already introduced free telephone and fax hotlines to receive information or complaints on pollution accidents while it is in the process of setting up a website for this purpose. "This unit will operate round the clock and will be responsible for receiving reports on marine pollution cases and accidents throughout the UAE from all parties concerned such as environment bodies, port authorities and coast guard. It will also be in charge of coordinating combat measures."

He said the public can also call the unit on a toll free telephone number 8004180 or fax it on 04-3962113, while a website in under construction for this purpose. The establishment of the unit follows international reports about a surge in pollution levels in the Gulf waters because of tanker accidents, persistent oil leakages from vessels and pipelines, and dumping of sludge and other types of waste by some ships disregarding recurrent instructions by local authorities to stop such illegal practices.

According to a UN report, the Gulf waters are nearly 100 times more polluted than other seas because of such accidents and practices and the fact that the Gulf is highly saline, shallow and landlocked except for the narrow Hormuz Strait, its only outlet.

Hundreds of oil tankers and other vessels ply the Gulf waters every day through the strategic Hormuz Straits, through which more than one fifth of the world's crude oil supplies pass. Many oil tankers are still cleaning their sludge in the water in defiance of official warnings and threats of prosecution.

The Gulf has been highly polluted since the eruption of the eight-year Iraq-Iran war in the 1980's, during which hundreds of loaded oil tankers were struck. The UAE is a member of an anti-marine pollution body grouping it with other Gulf states but the organisation has been inactive because of regional conflicts.

Dumping of sludge, oil, chemicals and other materials into the water is threatening the UAE's desalination water plants and shrinking fish wealth, which is also suffering from bad fishing practices in violation of local fishing rules. Large quantities of fish have perished in oil slicks on the UAE's coasts, which have also been hit by black tar. The latest disaster involved the death of thousands of fish off Musaffah just outside Abu Dhabi this month. (The Gulf News)


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