x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Satellites to track oil spills

Satellite technology will be used to catch cargo ships that pollute coastal waters, under a new agreement.

Oil pollutes the water of a sailing club on Jumeirah Beach in Dubai
Oil pollutes the water of a sailing club on Jumeirah Beach in Dubai

DUBAI // Satellite technology will be used to catch cargo ships that pollute coastal waters, under a new agreement to protect marine life from oil spills. The Ministry of Environment and the Regional Clean Sea Organisation (Recso), a Dubai-based co-operative representing oil companies, yesterday signed a memorandum of understanding that calls for creating a comprehensive plan to deal with spills, including emergency response centres along the coast.

The Fujairah coastline notably has been plagued by oil spills over the past few months, many caused by ships washing out their cargo tanks in the sea. The plan would include use of satellite navigation systems and real-time satellite imagery to catch ships in the act of polluting, and to spot oil slicks in the water. "It is too early to say when we will have the new equipment and be using it because we have just signed the memorandum, but we anticipate we'll have more information in a few months," said Khamis Juma Bu Amim, the president of Resco.

Under the agreement, the ministry and the industry group plan a study to identify what tools, manpower and strategies are needed to better deal with oil spills. Emergency plans would then be drawn up, using data from past spills. An environment sensitivity survey of the sea would be conducted before the response centres are built. The plan also calls for training programmes for those who will be monitoring the sea, and for efforts to promote environment awareness among the public.

"The National Comprehensive Environment Plan will focus primarily on the scientific and practical methods we employ to preserve the country's marine and natural resources," Mr Amim said. The plan will cover and ensure that we have people who are responsible and aware, and look after the sea as a first priority." The memorandum of understanding also covers such matters as joint studies to evaluate the environmental effects of accidental marine pollution; studies of the characteristics of the marine areas; and a database to record all the findings.

Dr Rashid Ahmed bin Fahad, the Minister of Environment and Water, said the agreement set a foundation for co-operation and co-ordination with Resco. "Swift action in this respect is one of the ministry's fundamental tasks," he said. Marine pollution is a serious environmental challenge to the UAE, although the extent of the problem is difficult to assess because dumped oil is not always washed ashore. Most of the pollution is believed to be caused by oil tankers cleaning their tanks and dumping the toxic mixture of oil and water into the sea.

Many of the ships are on their way to Fujairah's refuelling port, the second-largest in the world. eharnan@thenational.ae