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Fri 8 Aug 2008 04:00 AM

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Fujairah struggles against the tide

Oil pollution on Fujairah's beaches is a threat to the emirate’s tourism industry, hoteliers claim.

Oil pollution on Fujairah's beaches is a threat to the emirate’s tourism industry, hoteliers claim.

There are growing concerns that Fujairah's booming tourism industry is being blighted by oil pollution on its beaches.

Hoteliers along the Al Aqah beach strip are concerned that passing ships are cleaning their tanks by offloading their fuel in the sea and the spill is lying thick in the shallow waters where guests swim.

When washed onto the shore the spill makes unsightly stains on the sand that hotelier says upsets tourists, discouraging them from re-visiting and soiling the area's reputation.

The cost and time needed to clear the beaches of these spills is also considerable.

At present a fine for illegal dumping is actually cheaper than the discharging rates shipping companies would have to pay, so the practice is becoming all too regular.

"I would like to emphasise firstly that the problem is subsiding," said Sandy Beach general manager Joseph Aboudib.

"It is not as bad as it was a month ago. Efforts have been made to clean the beaches and they have been very effective, but it is still a drain on our business as this pollution always seems to happen during peak season."

Aboudib was baffled that more had not been done by the authorities to address this issue.

"I have spoken to everyone, from our local tourism board to the port authority. I have taken pictures and shown them the problem," he said.

"We receive assistance when it comes to the cleaning process, but in terms of actually tackling the main cause - the ships that are dumping this oil - nothing is done that has any effect; it's incredibly frustrating."

Aboudib's concerns were echoed by other hotels in the region.

"Le Meridien has been affected by oil spills twice this year," said Le Meridien Al Aqah general manager Patrick Antaki.

"This is still a relatively new and delicate tourism destination; if the region is stereotyped as having dirty waters then the strong tourism presence we are looking for will be diluted."Antaki was impressed with the way the recent spills had been cleaned to return the destination to its former glory, but agreed with Aboudib that more needed to be done to prevent further damage being inflicted on the destination.

"A simple solution to continued oil spills could be to set up an air-wing section to the coast guards," he suggested. "Tougher enforcement and penalties could also help, but our main objective would be to see the spills prevented before they cause damage."

The Fujairah Port Authority said it was aware of the issue but told ATN it was limited as to the action it could take to counter the problem.

"Of course, this is a big problem and we want to resolve it," said Fujairah Port Authority general manager Moosa Murad.

"We need closer monitoring, especially at night time, but at the moment we do not have the equipment we need to do this effectively."

Murad believed that bigger fines and more in-depth port inspections were the most effective way to deter ships from this practice.

"The spill is coming from passing ships and Fujairah is not alone in this problem," he explained.

"When ships come into port their tanks are inspected to see if they are clean but they do not make them say where they have cleaned out their tanks. This is something I believe all GCC countries are working towards resolving.

"At the moment, even if a ship does get caught, the fine is not big enough. I think it would be a better deterrent if they were hit with a big fine - then we would see if they kept doing it."

Le Meridien's Antaki agreed stressing that the authorities must realise the potential financial and ecological long-term impacts of not addressing this issue decisively.

"We have succeeded - for the time being at least - in making this region a serious player in the tourism field," he said.

"Allowing a few companies to harm what is a beautiful marine environment is a tragedy in itself even without the impact it has on our industry. Tourism projects in this region are major and must be safeguarded."

Editor's comment

I visited Sandy Beach Hotel in early June and the hotel had issued a warning stating that there was oil in the water.

After a snorkelling trip to Snoopy Island, my husband's board shorts were stained with oil and my sister had a blob of thick black oil on her foot. We visited the resort last June (2007) and the situation was the same.

In addition, an ATN travel agent source recently visited the brand new Miramar Al Aqah Beach Resort and found that its beach had been stained with oil too.

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