The Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources highlighted the significance of Fujairah as one of the top international bunker and fuel oil supply centres at the opening of the Third International Fujairah Bunkering and Fuel Oil Forum (FUJCON 2003) being held at the Al Diar Siji Hotel here.

Obeid bin Saif Al Nasiri stressed the importance of Fujairah as a major supplier of bunker fuel, saying that its strategic location in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean gives it an added advantage of one of the most important terminals in the UAE.

"The emirate's economy is highly dependent on the bunkering industry as it has a capacity to provide around 1 million tonnes of bunkering per month, and has a floating storage capacity offshore at 700,000 barrels, in addition to an onshore storage capacity exceeding 1.8 million cubic metres," said Nasiri.

He pointed out that the emirate is blessed with rocks and mineral deposits.

"The ministry is carrying out comprehensive ground and aerial geological and geophysical surveys with the aim of fully understanding the geological and tectonic nature of the UAE, particularly the mountainous region," said the Minister.

"The aim is to access the availability of mineral deposits, underground water accumulations, hydrocarbon resources, as well as to understand tectonic movements in the region. The project is expected to be completed in 2006."

He noted that the UAE occupies a key position in the world energy scene. It holds the fourth largest volumes of proven oil reserves in the world, estimated at around 98 billion barrels, and the fifth biggest proven natural gas reserves in the world, estimated at more than 6 trillion cubic metres.

"Achieving a fair price for the barrel will continue to be a prime objective for oil producers. Instability of oil prices in the world markets harms the interests of both producing and consuming countries," said Nasiri.

He said that the year-to-date average price of the Opec basket is still within the set target of the price band of $22 to 28 per barrel.

"What we hear of views that the current oil prices are behind the slowdown in the world economy, are just exaggeration of the facts...," said the Minister.

He added that the fluctuation in oil prices prior to and after Opec's last meeting was basically caused by oil market speculators' worries, and not related to oil market fundamentals. Market fundamentals predict that the world oil market will be well-supplied with oil during the fourth quarter of this year and the first quarter of the next.

The opening ceremony was attended by Sheikh Saleh bin Mohammed Al Sharqi, chairman of the Fujairah Department of Industry and Economy, Sheikh Saif bin Hamad bin Saif Al Sharqi, chairman of the Fujairah Free Zone Authority, Dr Mohammed Saeed Al Kindi, director of the Fujairah Ruler's Office and chairman of the FUJCON Steering Committee, Hussain Sultan, Group Chief Executive and Board Member of the Emirates National Oil Company (Enoc), Dr Salem Abdo Khalil, Technical Advisor of the Fujairah Government, Captain Mousa Murad, General Manager of the Port of Fujairah, heads of Fujairah government economic establishments and over 300 oil and bunkering experts from all over the world.

Dr Al Kindi said Fujairah has emerged as a leading business hub during recent years despite the war crisis in the Middle East and other global instability in the business industry.

"In 1992, Fujairah handled just under half a million tonnes of oil-related cargo.

Ten years later, the performance increased to over 11.5 million tonnes last year due to the importance of Fujairah's strategic port which now ranks among the top three world bunkering points, along with Singapore and Rotterdam," said Dr Al Kindi.

He noted that in the next few years, Fujairah will witness a big boost in the commercial and industrial sectors with the ongoing Fujairah International Airport expansion, a growing free zone facility, Fujairah Desalination and Power Plant, the Dolphin Natural Gas Projects, and the booming construction and tourism industries, among others.