x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

GCC urged to tackle illegal oil dumping

A co-operative effort in the Gulf could make it more difficult for ships to illegally dump waste oil.

As Fujairah waited anxiously to see whether slicks spotted off Fujairah would foul its waters and beaches, maritime officials and environmental businessmen said a co-operative effort in the Gulf could make it more difficult for ships to illegally dump waste oil. Fishermen and environmental groups have complained that not only has the country not caught many offending ships, it also cannot keep track of oil that has been dumped into the sea, making it difficult to predict where slicks might wash up.

Capt Mousa Murad, the general manager of Fujairah Port, said: "From time to time, we have this problem of boats flushing their tanks in the water, because, you know, it can be cheaper to do this way than the legal way. "This is indeed costly for us, what's happening here. "We've got some ideas in store, not just for us, but the entire GCC, but this will take time to implement." Alex Spence, the Middle East general manager of Seacor Environmental Services, said a comprehensive oil monitoring system has been discussed.

In November, the Regional Clean Sea Organisation (Recso), a Dubai-based co-operative representing oil companies, and the Ministry of Environment signed a memorandum of understanding to develop a system to respond to oil slicks. Mr Spence said there was also discussion about using unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, equipped with infrared sensors and special cameras. The UAVs would be "much less expensive than using normal fix-winged aircraft", he said. Hoteliers said yesterday they had not seen oil washing up on beaches, while fisherman were uncertain whether the winds and current would bring it ashore. Officials in Fujairah said they were unaware of the slicks, believed to have been illegally discharged by ships into the sea instead of being disposed of at treatment facilities. Asked about the slicks, Capt Murad said: "We haven't seen anything." The slicks were reported by local fishermen who said they also saw a tanker dumping what appeared to be diesel fuel into the water on Saturday morning. Oil has frequently washed up on local beaches and hoteliers and dive-shop owners say it has hurt their businesses. Environmental groups say the dumped oil hurts marine life. Fujairah relies on a small network of boats to keep watch. The one satellite used for surveillance is shared with other oil-producing countries in the region. "Unfortunately, the reality is that some of the data needed for tracking these kinds of things is limited in the region," Mr Spence said. For one thing, he said, there was no aerial surveillance available to monitor coastlines and find vessels that illegally discharge pollutants into the sea. Nor was there a centralised agency for recording data, such as wind and tide conditions, which could be used in computer models to predict the movement of pollutants. "It's also not just about the current, local data, it's about historical data that can show patterns," he said. "You need details like water depth, the way the tides work. This is data that, in order to work, needs to be compiled over the course of years." hnaylor@thenational.ae