x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Shipwreck is leaking oil, fishermen claim

The Ministry of Environment and Water has again insisted that the White Whale, which sank off Umm Al Qaiwain's coast, is not leaking.

UMM AL QAIWAIN // The wreck of a cargo ship is leaking diesel into Gulf fishing waters, despite ministry assurances that it poses no threat to marine life, fishermen say.

"We have seen the spill with our own eyes after the weather was rough for a few days," said one fisherman, pointing to a rainbow sheen on the surface of the water.

"It could be that the strong winds caused another leakage on the ship. What we are doing is to avoid those places where the spill is."

The White Whale was carrying 440 tonnes of diesel when it sank about 16 kilometres off the Umm Al Qaiwain coast on October 25 last year.

Nine crew members were arrested and referred to Public Prosecution on charges of overloading the vessel.

The ship now lies about 30 metres below the surface, 11 nautical miles off the coast.

Officials at the Ministry of Environment and Water have issued a second assurance that the White Whale is secure.

"The technical team formed to follow up the sunken ship off the coast of UAQ is regularly monitoring the situation and submitting periodic reports to the ministry," said Sultan Alwan, the assistant undersecretary. "At present, the ship does not pose any threat to the marine environment."

Mr Alwan said the ministry had contracted the company Dubai Ship Building to study the situation and salvage the vessel without causing any environmental hazard.

"The rough seas have not yet allowed the company to begin salvage," he said.

Bader bin Mubarak, the deputy director of the salvage company, said its recovery vessel Amlak had been deployed in the water near the sunken ship but the company was waiting for calmer waters before beginning.

The fishing community's suspicions followed criticism levelled at the Ministry of Environment and Water by FNC members last month over its handling of the incident.

At a meeting of the council on January 18, members said more should have been done and sooner.

"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 with such situations?"

ykakande@thenational.ae