DUBAI // The schools are on holiday, the weather has started to cool and a breeze is coming in off the ocean. This should be the busiest time of year for Dubai's biggest sailing club, but the beach and clubhouse are all but deserted and the boats are firmly moored. Raw sewage in the harbour of the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club, and the public beach next door, has all but shut down the club.
Officials are worried that despite weeks of media coverage, little is being done to stop the problem. "This is peak season for us. We should have four instructors working flat out, doing three sessions a day, but we are all shore-bound doing maintenance," Joel Bryant, the club's sailing manager, said as he looked over the dark brown water of the harbour yesterday. "I'm not letting our equipment in the water. There are one or two people taking their own boats out, but you only have to look at it and smell it to tell it's bad."
Some sewage tankers dump loads into drains in Al Quoz industrial area, rather than wait for hours at Al Aweer treatment plant. The sewage then pours out of a storm drain near the harbour, covering the water with toxic, foul-smelling sludge. Until the sewage is gone, Mr Bryant said, he was staying out of the water. "I'm a kite surfer, but I'm not doing that either. I wouldn't risk going in for at least a kilometre away from here, maybe more. I've seen people swimming in chocolate-brown water that smells. All I can say is, rather them than me."
Last week, Dubai Municipality warned the public to keep away from the water near the sailing club. The municipality also enlisted the help of police to boost the number of night patrols around the sailing club area to catch illegal dumpers. Violators can be fined Dh10,000 (US$2,700) to Dh100,000, depending on the severity of the contamination and the number of times they have been caught. The municipality said it catches 20 to 30 violators a month.
While most of Dubai's beaches were packed with people enjoying the Eid al Fitr holiday yesterday, only a few people at the public beach next to the sailing club were sunbathing and going into the water, most of whom did not speak English or Arabic and had not seen the press coverage. A French woman said she was on holiday and had not heard about the contamination. "That is disgusting," she said when told about the problem. "There are no signs here to warn us. Why are there no signs? I'm not going back in. It is horrible, really horrible."
Unni Krishnan, the sailing club's security supervisor, said: "I do keep seeing people bathing in the water, although there are a lot less since the newspapers started reporting it. I have not seen anyone from the municipality here to warn people not to swim." Mr Bryant said he was hopeful that once the sewage stopped coming in, the harbour could clean itself relatively quickly. "It stopped for a few days, and with every tide you could see it being flushed out and getting cleaner," he said.
"We have an independent company to do tests on the water, but there is absolutely no point at the moment because more sewage keeps getting dumped in. This has been a problem since June or July. Before that, our main issue was litter. I have no idea why it has started this summer." Although the sailing club is a non-profit organisation, he said the forced inactivity was starting to hurt financially. "We can't go on like this. We have booked some top-class instructors, including one who just got back from the Beijing Olympics, to come and teach here in December.
"If we have to cancel that, it will really cost us a lot of money. This whole thing is really bad for the image of Dubai." firstname.lastname@example.org