Umm Al Quwain: Federal and local authorities now believe a reported heavy payload of diesel fuel, in transit by ocean vessel The White Whale that sank in here last year, escaped into the sea prior to the ship’s raising last month, Gulf News has learnt.
But at this point, no estimates are being given as to the ecological damage to marine life that 450 to 1,000 tonnes of diesel fuel may have exacted upon the Umm Al Quwain reef and shoreline habitats.
According to Public Prosecutor Rafhid Jumaa, the owner and captain of the 60-metre-long tanker are facing up to five charges to be introduced into Umm Al Quwain court on Tuesday that accuse the defendants of polluting the environment in connection to the ship’s sinking on October 22, 2011.
The ship came to rest in 35 metres of water, 25 kilometres off the UAQ where it languished for eight months until it was liberated from the sea bottom on June 14 by crane barge.
Jumaa told reporters on Monday that his office received documentation from the Ministry of Environment and Water alleging that after The White Whale was raised, investigators discovered the ship’s holds were empty.
The find was in sharp contrast to earlier reports that the ship was laden with diesel fuel.
“The Ministry of Environment sent an official paper saying that there is no diesel inside, it is all out,” Jumaa said, adding that “the case will now be with the court” on Tuesday.
Charges filed by prosecution allege that the Ajman-based shipping company put lives of the nine-member crew at risk when the ship foundered in heavy seas and, that senior officials with the company didn’t take the necessary precautions to limit pollution from contaminating the environment.
Additional charges include allegations that The White Whale entered UAE waters without paperwork, carried diesel fuel in an improper oil transport ship and, carried diesel without a proper certificate.
It is not known if the defendants will appear before the courts on Tuesday to answer charges against them.
The suggestion that the ship no longer held its diesel fuel lends credence to reports by Gulf News in February from commercial fishermen in the area who said there were repeated sightings of oil slicks in the area.
One fisherman said in an interview that the oil slick appeared to be growing larger by the day and coincided with an advisory issued by the Ministry of Environment for commercial fishing operations to avoid the area.
Anglers said that the sight of dead fish in the water was becoming more commonplace and they blamed the shipwreck for the losses.
It’s still anyone’s guess, meanwhile, who will foot the heavy costs of raising The White Whale from the sea bottom in mid-June of this year.
The estimated Dh3 million cost for the raising effort by crane barge Emlaq and a team of 10 divers and operators of heavy equipment is being covered by the Ministry of Environment and Water which has not publicly said whether it will pursue the sunken tanker owners for damages.
•October 22, 2011 – The 60-metre tanker The White Whale sinks in 35 metres of water carrying anywhere from a reported 450 to 1,000 tonnes of diesel fuel.
•October 27, 2011 – Nine crew members are arrested by police after being rescued by fishermen.
•December 12, 2011 – The owner of The White Whale is unable to pay the costs of salvaging his ship from the deep, says the Ministry of Environment and Water.
•February 7, 2012 – Fisherman along Umm Al Quwain coastline complain that diesel is contaminating daily catches of fish.
•June 14, 2012 – The White Whale is liberated from the sea bottom by a massive crane barge.
•July 30, 2012 – Umm Al Quwain court officials say tanker owner and captain face charges for endangering crew and polluting the environment.
SOURCE: Gulf News