ABU DHABI // Federal National Council members accused the environment ministry of a lacklustre response to the sinking of a diesel tanker off Umm Al Qaiwain in October.
Rashid Ahmed bin Fahad, the Minister of Environment and Water, insisted he had already reassured the FNC in a written response in December that the matter was being dealt with.
However, FNC members made it clear yesterday that their concerns about the sinking of the White Whale, which was carrying more than 450 tonnes of diesel when it sank several miles offshore, were far from assuaged.
After the sinking, the ministry said it was researching the best way to raise the ship and referred the case against the ship owner to the police.
But three months later, the ship remains under water - in danger, several members said, of leaking. They told the minister his department had been too slow to act, and should have salvaged the ship by now.
"After three months, it is still there, like a time bomb," said Hamad Al Rahoumi (Dubai).
"What what do we do if there is a problem? There could be wind, or three or four days of rough waves - it could leak. Is there not an emergency plan to deal such situations?"
When the minister pointed to reports that a company has been contracted to raise the ship, Mr Al Rahoumi said such action was too late.
"But for three months it was there," he said. "This would have been good if it was the second or the third day after the event, but it isn't.
"In the country there is a crisis management authority, and this is a crisis ... so I believe there has to be a mechanism to deal with such an event."
Asked repeatedly about the reason for the delay, the minister said the problem was under control. "No need to worry," he said, to the vocal disgruntlement of several members.
"This is very important, it is very important for the people of the UAE," said Dr Abdullah Al Shamsi (Ajman). "We cannot leave this issue as it is. Three months it was at sea."
Khalifa Al Suwaidi (Abu Dhabi) said the ministry should have had a well-researched plan that would have enabled it to act quickly.
Mr bin Fahad dismissed calls to draw up such a plan, saying it would "not add anything because the situation is already under control".
Dr Abdulrahim Al Shahin (RAK) told the minister that it was the council's right to make such recommendations.
Moving on to agriculture, Musabah Al Kitbi (Sharjah) asked the minister what was being done to help farmers in the drought-hit eastern and middle regions of the Northern Emirates.
The minister said he was well aware of the farmers' plight, which had been a government priority for many years. "Water and irrigation is a problem for the country as a whole," he said. "It needs a lot of work from all of us to resolve. This is something we are trying to work on, to improve water resources."
Mr Al Kitbi said that while he realised that the scarcity of rain was not the Government's fault, some emirates had found their own solutions while little had been done at the federal level.
He added that the prohibitive cost of building irrigation canals - once advocated by Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the UAE - meant they were out of the question.
"I agree it is important and is the first problem for the country," he said. "But we still need long-term solutions, and not quick ones."