Fujairah-based Fair-deal Marine services and the Dubai-based Regional Clean Sea Organisation (RECSO) have signed a membership agreement to enhance marine protection services in the region.

The agreement is aimed at providing swift and joint oil spill clean up and containment response in the area, said officials from both organisations.

Fairdeal, the first and largest private oil spill response services provider in the Gulf, is also planning to set up two oil spill response centres in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain.

"We are in discussions with the respective authorities. These autonomous centres will be equipped to tackle any oil spill incident within its area of operation as a first response, with full back-up from our Fujairah facility if required," said Abdullah Al Sulaiman, Fairdeal environmental affairs manager.

"One of the major problems we face is how to protect the sea from pollution. We set up the Central Gulf Incident Command last year to mobilise a coordinated task force to fight oil spills in the region," said Khamis Bu-Amin, chairman of the Regional Clean Sea Organisation.

RECSO is an environmental protection arm of the funded and founded by the region's oil companies.

Besides oil spill response services, Fairdeal has provided floating reception facilities from its Fujairah base since 1985 to handle waste oil from vessels passing through the area.

A long-standing problem in the area is the illegal dumping of waste marine oil and slop in international waters off the east coast by some vessels which is difficult to monitor, said the officials.

"This results in a 'sheen' of oil which gets blown by the winds toward land," said Bu-Amin.

If caught, vessels can be fined heavily for this offence. However, if it is done in international waters at night, it is not possible to track down the vessel. The recent oil sheen washing ashore on the Al Aqah beach on the UAE's east coast is believed to be one example.

Last month, 620 cubic metres of light crude oil leaked into the sea as a result of a collision between Safari, a UAE flagged roro carrier, and Astro Lupus, a Greek flagged very large crude carrier (VLCC) off the Straits of Hormuz near Iranian waters.

A coordinated operation involving Fairdeal, Marine Emergency Mutual Aid Centre and Iranian and Fujairah Port Authorities contained the problem.

"Because it was light crude oil, most of it had evaporated in the hot weather conditions. We only found an oil sheen of nine square nautical miles," said Al Sulaiman.

"Under the instructions of the Iranian authorities we applied environmentally approved chemical dispersants with the go ahead of MEMAC to combat the slick and prevent it from reaching the shores," he said.