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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Company behind plan to tow an iceberg to the UAE aims to launch a pilot project early next year

The pilot would involve towing an iceberg to one of three locations to prove that it is technically possible 

An Abu Dhabi company is aiming to tow an iceberg from Antarctica to UAE waters in 2020. Courtesy Aurora Expeditions
An Abu Dhabi company is aiming to tow an iceberg from Antarctica to UAE waters in 2020. Courtesy Aurora Expeditions

When a company announced plans to drag an iceberg to the UAE to provide millions of gallons of drinking water, experts around the world raised their eyebrows.

But Abu Dhabi business start-up consultancy, National Advisor Bureau Limited, is hoping to defy the sceptics to launch a trial of the audacious scheme next year, towing an iceberg from one of the polar regions to either South Africa, Australia or Norway.

If they are successful they will to attempt to tow the iceberg to the UAE in 2020 at the earliest.

“This would be the proof of concept for this project,” said owner Abdulla Alshehi.

The bizarre plan was first announced in May last year but was refuted as "just a rumour" by the UAE's Ministry of Energy who urged the public to shun such speculations.

But Mr Alshehi — who first outlined the idea in Filling the Empty Quarter, a book he published in 2015 — is unperturbed.

"It is a private venture. It is nothing to do with the government," he said.

"We are working to getting them involved. The government being involved would support the project very much."

If it the pilot project is successful — and Mr Alshehi fully expects that it will be — plans will be put in place to tow an iceberg all the way to the coast of Fujairah in 2020, he said.

The project is expected to cost $50-60 million, but if successful the plan could provide fresh drinking water for one million people over five years, according to Mr Alshehi.

“We have set up a scientific committee consisting of many scientists from many countries with diverse knowledge on Antarctica and icebergs and weather conditions, to assist and confirm our finding that this project is viable,” he said.

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The company is currently working on a technology which would ensure zero melt during the transportation phase.

Mr Alshehi dismisses the idea that the iceberg would dissolve rapidly once in the warm waters of the UAE, saying the technology the company is working on would ensure that any melt would be minimal.

The company will be releasing more information on the technology it will use soon, he said.

The idea to tow an iceberg was first mooted in 1949, according to his company’s website, by oceanographer John Isaacs. He proposed capturing an eight-billion-ton iceberg, 32 kilometres long, 1km and 300m deep, which would be towed to San Clemente Island for 200 days. He proposed that the energy required to tow it would be a fraction of the power used to desalinate water.

And it was concerns over the UAE’s reliance on desalination that drove Mr Alshehi to pursue the plan.

“We believe that desalination is not an environmentally friendly solution. It is polluting the Gulf and pumping brine in the water, so we believe we have to explore different water resources, which is why we are checking this idea,” he said.

The fact that it would draw tourists to the region would be a bonus, he said.

“We expect tourists will be attracted to the iceberg so we are excited about it from that perspective.”