DUBAI // A boat that caught fire on Dubai Creek on Saturday was carrying about 170 barrels of petrol.
Police said yesterday the barrels, which were located on one of two fully loaded cargo boats, fed the fire, which destroyed 100 tonnes of goods.
The fire spread from the smaller dhow containing the barrels, which was anchored on the Deira side of the creek, to a larger vessel next to it. Strong winds then blew both vessels to the Bur Dubai side of the creek after their moorings burnt through, forcing other ships to take evasive action.
"There were fireballs coming out of the dhow," said one speedboat owner who saw the blazing vessels heading towards his craft.
"I got so scared when I saw the burning boat coming so fast at us," said Abbas Umar, captain of Al Jalab Yacht. "We took our boats and rushed in different directions as we were scared the fire could spread to our boats. I took my boat quickly and went towards the Floating Bridge," he said.
The cause of the fire, which injured one person, is unknown, but officers say preliminary investigations have uncovered no evidence of criminal negligence.
The boats were carrying cargoes worth millions of dirhams - including cars, spare parts, clothes, plastic bottles, sugar and other food items which were being shipped to Somalia.
Lt Col Abdullah Al Mazyoud, the director of the Ports police station, said that there was no indication of foul play and that any source of heat could have caused the blaze.
"The fire started at the front part of the boat deck and was aggravated by the strong wind on that day," he said. "The fire only spread because of the wind and the goods and cars on board the boat."
He added that the fire had caused some oil to spill into the creek.
"We still do not have an exact figure for the loss but it is huge as there were 15 cars on board in addition to 100 tonnes of goods," said Lt Col Al Mazyoud.
However, a customs official said that operations were not significantly disrupted.
"Vessel traffic at Dubai Creek wasn't affected ... handling operations are running as normal," said Butti Al Dafri, the director of customer service for Hamriya and Khour areas.
He said more than 24,000 dhows - mostly from Iran, Somalia, Gulf countries, Iraq, India and Pakistan - used the creek annually.
As Civil Defence workers continued to spray water on the larger boat, Bhakti Sagar, yesterday, Dubai Customs defended their safety procedures, saying the onus was on sailors to adhere to regulations.
"Safety and security procedures are already in place and their implementation is carried out normally," said Ahmed Mahboub Musabih, the Dubai Customs' executive director of client management division.
"And all dhow owners and staff should abide by the regulations. However, it is a cultural matter and a mindset of seamen to adhere to safety and security measurements," he said.
His comments followed a request by Dubai Municipality for a review of safety procedures.
Salem Mesmar, the assistant director general for environment, health and safety at the municipality, said yesterday that special equipment would be needed to salvage the debris.
"We have to contain this problem quickly to not pollute the environment," he said.