x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Illegal dumping suspected as oil slicks sighted off Fujairah

Three oil slicks in the Arabian Gulf are threatening to wash up on the shores of Fujairah, local fishermen say.

Three oil slicks in the Arabian Gulf are threatening to wash up on the shores of Fujairah, local fishermen say. They are concerned by an increase in the number of slicks since the start of the year after an apparent reduction in previous months. The slicks, which threaten marine life and the coastline, are thought to be the result of illegal dumping by tankers.

"One thing's for sure, whatever it was that allowed these slicks to happen is now back," said Wayne de Jager, the owner of East Coast Fishing Charters, a small sport fishing company in Fujairah. "It started getting bad again about a month ago. We're discovering this oil all around us now. Literally, it's all over the place and it's getting worse." Mr de Jager said he and his crew saw three slicks over the weekend - 5km, 12km and 20km offshore. Some of the oil could wash up today or tomorrow, he and others said.

Andrey Malinin, 41, a Russian resident of Fujairah who regularly fishes in the area, said he and several friends saw a vessel dumping what appeared to be diesel fuel into the water at 8am on Saturday. "I was afraid to light my cigarette next to the boat, it was so bad," he said. "There was a drainage point on the hull that was spewing the oil in the water." Fujairah, whose refuelling facilities accommodate nearly 200 tankers at any given time, has long been plagued by oil slicks.

Hoteliers in the emirate complain that business has been damaged by oil residue and diesel fuel that regularly blacken the beaches, while diving shops in the area have also been affected. Environmentalists have warned that petrochemicals are destroying delicate marine ecosystems. Fishermen said they noticed an improvement since July, when Fujairah authorities, vowing to stop illegal dumping, began penalising boats. In September, after fishermen released photographs of a Saudi Arabian-managed vessel discharging fuel, the operator was fined several thousand dirhams.

The area is monitored only by a flotilla of Coast Guard and port vessels, plus a space satellite that keeps an eye on a dozen more oil-producing countries. The lack of monitoring in the area makes it difficult to first find and then punish violators. Capt Musa Murad, the director general of Fujairah Port, said recently that officials had been exploring ways of improving monitoring. He did not elaborate.

Meanwhile, fishermen say pollution of the waters has seriously damaged their ability to earn a living. Mr Malinin said it had been nearly impossible over the past few weeks to find a clean spot to drop anchor. Fujairah has also been plagued by an outbreak of red tide, an algal bloom that emits foul odours and can poison underwater ecosystems. "The conditions are disappointing, to say the least," Mr Malinin said. "In all my time in the UAE, the current water conditions - the oil, the red tide - I've never quite seen anything like this. There's almost no reason to have a fishing boat here any more."

hnaylor@thenational.ae