x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

RAK will provide smooth sailing, group assures America's Cup

The group helping Ras al Khaimah prepare for the America's Cup in February says security in the Strait of Hormuz will not be an issue.

DUBAI // The group helping Ras al Khaimah prepare for the America's Cup in February says security in the Strait of Hormuz will not be an issue. The Ras al Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA), which is organising the 33rd America's Cup yacht race, was responding specifically to the concerns of the challenging team, BMW Oracle of the Golden Gate Yacht Club, about the emirate's proximity to Iran and its vulnerability as a terror target.

"I want to emphasise to anyone who has concerns over the race that RAK is part of the sovereign state of the UAE, which has been regarded as a peaceful and stable country since its creation," said Dr Khater Massaad, the chief executive of RAKIA. "The UAE is a multicultural country where people from all races live in harmony together. It is a peaceful situation. America's Cup is a very important event and we will ensure, with the assistance of the federal government and the police, that security is provided."

Larry Ellison, software magnate and member of the challenging crew, used a launch event on Tuesday for his new boat in San Diego to express concerns about the proximity of Iran, less than 160 kilometres from RAK. "People say, 'Oh my God, the Emirates, that's where Roger Federer trains for tennis and that's where Formula One races,' Mr Ellison said. "Not this part of the Emirates. There's an oil depot, we're concerned about electricity, we're concerned about a lot of things.

Dr Theodore Karasik, a senior researcher at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said RAK was a very secure location for such an event and that security concerns were the result of a misunderstanding. "There have been some minor disputes between the UAE and Iran over issues such as boats travelling without permission into territorial waters within the Hormuz Strait, but these have been on a small scale and isolated," he said.

"The UAE is very secure, thanks to the implementation of biometric checks at borders and thorough policing. It has a very good record of hosting safe and secure international-scale events. As long as the racecourse is staged within UAE waters I don't foresee any security threats." Mr Ellison cited an oil depot in the vicinity of the event headquarters as another cause for concern. However, Dr Karasik said the risk of it being a terror target was negligible if the waters were patrolled and checkpoints established during the event.

Mr Ellison also said he was concerned about electricity supply at the venue. Although some hotels and apartment blocks in the emirate use generators for power, Dr Massaad explained that capacity in the city had recently been increased further by the addition of two new power plants. "Last month, two electricity turbines became operational and directly supply the Al Hamra resort," Dr Massaad said. "This has increased supply significantly, and there is now more capacity than the current demand. The generators are located within a kilometre of the tournament base."

The comments from Mr Ellison constitute the latest instalment in a long-running feud with America's Cup holders Alinghi, from the Swiss based Société Nautique de Genève Yacht Club, who as champion had the right to select the venue for its defence of the cup. The two teams are embroiled in a court case in New York contesting the format of the forthcoming race. A former America's Cup challenger, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the court case, said the venue was always a point of contention.

Alinghi has defended the selection of RAK, citing favourable weather and wind conditions. Oracle has raised questions about the venue's neutrality, given that Alinghi has trained in the Gulf. The event will be staged over several days beginning on February 8 from a purpose-built island in Al Hamra lagoon. tbrooks@thenational.ae