ABU DHABI // Officials have called on all those using UAE waters to take precautions to avoid harming the environment after a capsized boat leaked six tonnes of diesel into the sea near Dalma Island. The boat was pulling a ship bearing a load of rocks on the way to the island, some 30km off the coast of Abu Dhabi, when it capsized 9.6 nautical miles (17.8km) from Zarko Island. The company that owns the boat, which has not been named, was found guilty of negligence and fined Dh664,385 by Abu Dhabi Federal Court of First Instance last week.
Habiba al Marashi, the chairwoman of Emirates Environmental Group and a board member of UN Global Compact, said clean-up operations of fuel spills at sea can prove challenging, especially if not immediately initiated because effects can become widespread. "The release of diesel or fuel from a ship at sea can cause vast environmental damage. Marine life can be affected, sea birds will suffer if coated in the oil and coastal habitats may be subjected to the oil when it reaches land," said Ms al Marashi. "By affecting a number of species, knock-on effects to the entire marine food web may be noticeable, which can damage industries such as fishing and tourism."
In cases like that of the boat that capsized near Dalma Island, the faster the response of the ship owner, the less damage to the local environment, officials said. On top of the leakage, the boat caused the obstruction of other ships as it remained stranded within the navigation waterway despite numerous efforts by the Ministry of Environment and the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) to contact the company.
The ship remained where it was and its crew and the company took no action to clean up the pollution for a month. The environmental agencies had to intervene to prevent any further damage to marine life. The date of the spill was not released by the court. With a recorded history dating back more than 7,000 years, Dalma Island is considered a national treasure. One of the oldest known settlements in the UAE, the island is today home to almost 5,000 residents. It was a thriving hub for water trading and pearl diving as it boasted at least 200 fresh water wells. Today, fishing is still considered a major source of income.
That is why, when a potential disaster happens at sea, it is a serious threat to the local environment. "Because the UAE is a high exporter of oil, spill risks will always be present, but luckily the actual occurrences are rare. Standby mitigations plans should be in place with suitable equipment on hand to contain and resolve any spill in a quick and efficient manner," said Ms al Marashi. UAE law says a company may be fined Dh500,000 for any pollution it causes to the country's waters, in addition to being held liable for any expenses incurred. The fine was paid to the Ministry of Environment and the EAD.
Although such instances are rare, strict rules apply to anyone who uses Abu Dhabi waters, according to an official from the Critical National Infrastructure Authority (CNIA). "Although CNIA's role is to protect and preserve Abu Dhabi's waters, every boat owner has an individual responsibility to use the waters safely and responsibly," said the official, who declined to be named. The government authority is tasked with securing Abu Dhabi's infrastructure and promoting economic stability. CNIA also has the responsibility of responding to emergencies, accidents or any suspicious activities within the waters of Abu Dhabi.
Guidelines have also been set up for boat owners in order to prevent fatal and environmentally damaging accidents. These include meeting all UAE standards and having the required safety equipment, not exceeding the maximum weight restriction, calling 996 in case of emergencies and providing detailed reports of any incidents. "As a first responder, CNIA's main goal is to ensure the safety of the people on board, as well as to preserve marine life and protect facilities. All boats in Abu Dhabi should be equipped with the new e-passport to help prevent any confusion in case of a marine incident," the official added.