View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Eleventh Oil Slick in 2008 Covers East Coast Beaches

The red flag is up at the Oceanic Hotel in Khor Fakkan. The beach is closed while the clean up of a four kilometer oil dump continues.

The oil is always smelt before it is seen and the detection took place on Saturday (15 June 2008) at midday by people out in their boats. The popular diving spot of Shark Island was covered with oil and from there to the equally popular Martini Rock, boat owners drove for seven to ten minutes through the thick oil slick.

Today (Sunday) the oil has washed up on the beach. The Sharjah Municipality was notified and it responded by sending workers and equipment to deal with the oil on the beach.

Hugh Naylor, who this year has been covering the oil dumpings for The National, has written a story and posted a photo of the oil in the water and on the beach. A list of articles written earlier chronicle the tragic series of oil spills along the Fujairah coast this year.

There is no need to rehearse the cost upon the hotels, the diving centres and the environment but there are some issues that this latest dumping highlights.

Who is responsible for the clean up? In reporting oil slicks earlier this year, it was noted that hotels such as Le Méridien and the diving businesses have to pay private companies to oversee the clean up. However, in the clean up today the Sharjah Municipality has sent along workers and equipment. The issues of responsibility for the clean up and for covering the costs are murky and they need to be clarified for businesses along the coast and the information of the public.

The matter of surveillance is brought into focus again today. The oil slick was spotted at midday on Saturday but the clean up commenced on Sunday morning. Wouldn’t it have been much better for the authorities to see that boats and equipment were commissioned yesterday to contain the oil slick rather than having to engage in a clean up of the beach 24 hours later? Repeatedly the case has been made for satellite surveillance and detection so that the oil is contained and treated with urgency.

The clean up of the beaches is taking place because the oil and the smell are preventing hotel guests from using the facilities. But is the pollution on Shark Island, Martini Rock and the surrounding waters going to be treated or is it a case of ‘out of sight and out of mind’? If these areas are left untreated the oil will continue to kill what remains of the coral reefs and marine life. It appears that the clean up operation is makeshift and not comprehensive.

This morning the Sharjah Municipality sent out its Beach Cleaner and Sandsifter (pictured). The Fujairah Municipality also uses these on a daily basis to rake and refresh the beaches. These are used to clear debris such as bottles and seaweed. They also serve a cosmetic function as they groom the beach. However, this machinery is inadequate for dealing with an oil spill. It does not have the depth and it does not have maximum effectiveness in removing the oil from the sand. It may break the oil up and improve the beach’s appearance but it does not deal adequately with the problem. It appears that the municipalities do not possess the appropriate equipment for containing oil, dealing with oil in deep waters and cleaning up the beaches. So why do they choose to attempt the clean up themselves rather than hire private companies to do a thoroughly professional job?

The issue of information must be clarified. Without state of the art satellite sensor equipment the detection of oil spills remains an ad hoc affair, happening when coastguards, fishermen and recreational boats people spot oil in the waters. Sometimes people walking the beach early in the morning are the first to discover an oil spill. Who must be notified first? Where the coastline moves in and out of the municipalities of different emirates, who are all the players that must be informed? The tendency to keep silent when oil slicks occur is clouding communication and leading to clean ups that are delayed, lacking in an understood strategy and carried out by people devoid of the training and the best equipment.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Beach cleaner and Sand Sifter.

Following the 2008 Oil Dumping Trail (some of the many articles):
More Oil for the Emirates-Spill Affects Tourism, Deeper Blue, 20 February 2008
Oil Damages Fujairah Beaches, Marine Life and Tourism, Fujairah in Focus, 20 February 2008.
Hotels Seek Strict Action on Oil Spill, Gulf News, 21 February 2008.
Spill Spells Trouble, 7 Days, 21 February 2008.
2nd Oil Spill for Emirates East Coast, Deeper Blue, 9 March 2008
Further Oil Spillages Call for Urgent Action, Fujairah in Focus, 11 March 2008
‘Oil Draining’ in Fujairah waters not ‘Oil Spills’, Experiencing the Emirates, 11 March 2008.
Monitor the Oil tankers and Keep our Beaches Clean, The National, 11 May 2008
Nissar Hoath, ‘Gulf Accounts for 75% of World’s Oil Spills,’ Emirates Business 24-7, 21 May 2008.
Gulf Holds World record for Oil Spills, Experiencing the Emirates, 21 May 2008.
Oil Spill Blackens Fujairah, The National, 2 June 2008.
Video: Oil washes up on Fujairah Beaches, The National, 3 June 2008
Oil Spills Threaten Beaches and Business, The National, 3 June 2008.
Oil Dumpers give authorities the slip, The National, 5 June 2008.
Another Oil Spill Hits East Coast of UAE, Gulf News, 10 June 2008
The Valentine Should Have its Day, The National, 11 June 2008.
Cheaper to Pay the Fine than Dispose of Waste, The National, 11 June 2008.
Spill Solution, The National, 11 June 2008.
Interactive: Cleaning up oil in Fujairah, The National, 12 June 2008.
Drilling Down into Oil Dumping Problem, Fujairah in Focus, 13 June 2008
Fujairah Civic Chief Pledges Solutions, The National, 14 June 2008.
Large Oil Slick Lines Coast near Fujairah, The National, 15 June 2008.