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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

The urgent need for action against deliberate oil leaks

Offenders must be tackled and dealt with using the strongest possible legal mechanisms

Oil leaks have frequently affected the east coast. Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images
Oil leaks have frequently affected the east coast. Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

News from Fujairah of another oil leak blighting our coastline this weekend was as depressing as it was familiar. The east coast was subject to a series of oil slicks last year, prompting a debate in the FNC and calls for firm action to be taken. Now the same shores have been hit by another damaging wave of black oil.

As The National reported, a robust law is in place to tackle offenders. According to Federal Law 24 of 1999, all marine means of transportation are prohibited from discharging or disposing of oil or oil mixture into the marine environment. The maximum penalty for such an offence is severe and can run to imprisonment as well as up to a Dh1 million fine. Those penalties should, but don’t, act as a powerful deterrent to ship owners and crew.

Such discharge has an enormous impact on our waters and on those who depend upon the coastline for their livelihood. Tourists at the waterfront beach resorts at Aqah were warned to stay out of the sea. Last year, fishermen reported severe damage to their equipment and vessels were stuck in harbour. This time, boats had to dispose of their contaminated catch. But quite apart from any short-term inconvenience to visitors and traders while affected areas are tidied up, the reputational damage caused by such oil leaks is hard to quantify and even harder to scrub clean.

The situation cannot persist. Satellite tracking systems could be used to work out which vessels may be illegally discharging and to give early warnings of such events. Certainly, the technology exists. Likewise, samples from offending slicks can be used to identify the likely culprit. Capt Tamer Masoud, the harbour master at Fujairah port, has called for greater patrolling of our waters. We must be firm in our response to these events and we must call them what they are: reckless acts perpetrated by irresponsible crew discharging dirty ballast water into the sea. They are not accidents or spills, they are deliberate violations of the law. Offenders must be dealt with accordingly.

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