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Strong winds hamper bid to retrieve sunken oil tanker

Difficulty in balancing vessel with cables complicates operations

Gale winds forced the crane barge, Al Emlaq, to retreat to the port
Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News
Gale winds forced the crane barge, Al Emlaq, to retreat to the port and temporarily stop lifting the White Whale from the seabed in Umm Al Quwain on Sunday.

Umm Al Quwain: The relatively calmer Gulf waters late last week gave engineers a sense of hope that they might be able to raise sunken oil tanker White Whale from the sea bottom without major complications.

However, as the effort entered its fourth day yesterday, a dangerous gale forced salvagers to abandon efforts led by the Ministry of Environment to extract the vessel.

According to the Dubai Meteorological Office, just before noon yesterday, gusts as strong as 36 knots (66.67 km/h) swept along the UAE coastline pushing waves to sustained heights of 3.65 metres (12 feet).

The deteriorating weather forced the 400-tonne crane barge, Al Emlaq, to abandon salvage efforts to raise the White Whale that lies 35 metres below the surface and about 35 kilometres offshore.

The vessel and her 1,000 tonnes of diesel cargo still lie on the seabed, posing a hazard not only to shipping but also to the local marine environment.

At around 11.23am yesterday, Al Emlaq and its 65-metre-tall crane retreated for the port before weather officials predicted winds to increase to as high as 38 knots later in the day.

The 60-metre-long crane barge is owned by Dubai-based Mubarak Marine. The salvage operation is being overseen by Dubai Ship Building and Engineering, contracted by the environment ministry.

Last week, Dr Mariam Al Shenasi, Acting Undersecretary of the Ministry of Environment and Water, expressed worries that the sunken ship could break in two during lift-out operations.

Those fears recurred during the last few days of the operation as crew aboard Al Emlaq struggled to lift the White Whale horizontally using cables. An official told Gulf News that despite best efforts, it was extremely difficult to balance the sunken tanker evenly using cables. Marine crews decided to leave the ship submerged rather than risk breaching its hull and creating a major oil spill.

A visit to the site also revealed that the White Whale appeared to have shifted on the sea bottom by as much as 250 metres from where it is originally thought to have foundered.

No date was given as to when salvage teams would return to the scene.