Fishermen fight illegal dumping on U.A.E. coast

An aerial view shows commercial, deep-water port Rashid in Dubai. (Photo by Nasser Younes/AFP/Getty Images)

An aerial view shows commercial, deep-water port Rashid in Dubai. (Photo by Nasser Younes/AFP/Getty Images)

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With its shopping, luxury resorts and year-round sunshine, Dubai is the main attraction in the United Arab Emirates. However, the emirate of Fujairah has started to lure tourists as well, with its 90 kilometres of white-beach coastline overlooking the Gulf of Oman in the Indian Ocean. Tourist Web sites such as the online Indigo Guide like to say that Fujairah’s appeal lies in its “exquisite unspoiled beaches and a comfortable mix of open land and sea.” Recognizing the value of this, and wanting to keep those beaches pristine, locals have started taking action against polluters.

Between tourism, agriculture and fishing, all of which figure prominently in the local economy, the state of the environment is significant in Fujairah. So locals were understandably concerned when oil spills began to appear along the coast. With only a few patrol boats and one space satellite that it shares with other Gulf states, Fujairah’s limited resources and somewhat ineffective monitoring system make enforcement even more difficult. There has been scant documentation of vessels caught illegally dumping off the coast, which is host to the world’s second-largest refuelling port.

Fujairah’s shipping industry regulations stipulate that ships causing pollution near the Port of Fujairah or adjacent coastline can be fined AED 35,000 ($9,528 [USD]) and held liable for cleanup charges and damage to life and property. However, authorities have yet to prosecute any violators, asserting that ships illegally releasing oil and waste have avoided being caught by dumping at night or just outside their jurisdiction.

The fishing community has decided to take matters into their own hands by hunting down ships allegedly involved in illegal waste dumping. Fujairah fishermen have photographed suspect ships in an attempt to prompt local authorities to take legal action, the United Arab Emirates newspaper The National reported on Sept. 15.

On Sept. 14, a new oil slick emerged on the coastline, extending hundreds of metres offshore. Fishermen say they had already given the authorities photographs dated .Sept 11 that showed the suspect ship in action, dumping large amounts of waste oil for nearly an hour.

The fishermen then sent the photos to The National, complaining that despite their efforts to help the Port of Fujairah and Coast Guard catch polluters, authorities have yet to show interest in their efforts.

One fisherman, who requested anonymity, told the newspaper that the photos show the ship dumping waste in broad daylight. The National report indicated that ship’s name and registration number were visible in the photographs.

Fujairah Municipality’s general manager Mohammed Al-Afham insisted that authorities were aggressively pursuing the case and the city would do “whatever is necessary to find out who did this.”

“We will not hesitate to use the law to protect our coast and our environment,” Al-Afham told The National.

Environmentalists, hoteliers and commercial fishermen are all upset about the oil slicks, not only because of the damage to Fujairah’s delicate marine ecosystem, which includes coral reefs, but also because of the damage to the local economy.

“The official bodies are taking this incident very seriously as this is seriously affecting the tourism industry,” Patrick Antaki, general manager of Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort told The National.

The Méridien’s beach, along with several other hotel beaches, has been severely affected by the Sept. 14 oil slick. Antaki has had to temporarily close the hotel beach to clean up the slick.

The National predicts that such measures usually cost tens of thousands of dirhams in expenses and lost business.

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    2009-7-16

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