x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Sailors warned after boat fires

Crews of cargo boats will be told to increase their safety efforts after two fully loaded dhows carrying goods worth millions of dirhams were gutted by fires on the Dubai Creek at the weekend.

Dubai Civil Defence sprays water to the burnt cargo dhow at the Dubai Creek in Dubai.
Dubai Civil Defence sprays water to the burnt cargo dhow at the Dubai Creek in Dubai.

DUBAI // Crews of cargo boats will be told to increase their safety efforts after two fully loaded dhows carrying goods worth millions of dirhams were gutted by fires on the Dubai Creek at the weekend.

"The level of safety has to be raised," said Salem Mesmar, the assistant director general for environment, health and safety at the municipality.

"We are not happy about what has happened ... our director general wrote to the Dubai Customs today. The crews on these dhows have to take care. This has happened more than once."

Saturday night's incident was the second in less than four months.

In October last year, fire engulfed two dhows and forced the evacuation of more than 50 boats from the creek after a spark from an electrical water pump ignited barrels of diesel.

The weekend's fires started about 8pm in a small dhow anchored on the Deira side of the creek and spread to a larger boat.

One person was injured and taken to Rashid Hospital.

Both boats contained cars, car parts, clothes, plastic bottles, sugar and other food items to be exported to Mogadishu in Somalia.

It took more than two hours to bring the fires under control with strong winds pushing the boats close to the Bur Dubai side of the creek, opposite the British embassy, after their moorings burnt.

A shipping agent said seamen on one of the boats had planned to sail tomorrow.

"It was ready to go," said the agent, who asked not to be identified. "The boat was loaded four to five days back but the weather was bad.

"Every two months we take cargo from here to Somalia. Now, everything is gone."

The agent estimated the goods to be worth Dh10 million.

Mr Mesmar said the municipality would begin removing debris from the creek bed this week.

"All efforts will be taken to clear the creek," he said, adding action would be taken once police investigations were completed.

"It will definitely not be left like this. We are keeping an eye on it to see what is happening."

Dubai Customs, which governs the safety standards of dhows and cargo ships, is expected to comment on the incident today.

Special cranes and divers are due to help in the clean-up. The cost of such operations is generally borne by boat owners.

Fire engines were seen spraying water on the larger boat yesterday afternoon.

There was still smoke rising from the vessel but Civil Defence officials said the fire had been extinguished.

"We need water to cool it off because of the materials in the boats," said Brig Ahmad Al Sayegh, the assistant general manager of Dubai Civil Defence. "We tried to evacuate the dhows close by and moved all the yachts to safety."

Witnesses said they heard more explosions from the boats last night and some claimed to see flames.

But Brig Al Sayegh denied those reports.

He also ruled out oil spills from the damaged boats and estimated they were carrying 15 cars between them. But witnesses said there could have been more.

A number of goods being stored on the creekside were also destroyed by the fires.

Yesterday, several Somali traders were seen sifting through their damaged cargo - including computer parts, chairs, furniture, shoes, watches, shopping carts and electrical goods - most of which had been severely burnt. The cause of the blazes is still under investigation. It is believed a generator on the smaller craft ignited.

Residents living nearby said they heard explosions and saw balls of fire rising in the air.

"I heard two loud sounds," said Rui D'Souza, who lives close by. "Thick smoke was coming out from the boats the entire night."

Police yesterday partly closed Al Seef Road, which runs along the creek, to allow easier access by fire engines.

pkannan@thenational.ae