The Al Liyya Water Desalination Plant was temporarily shut down yesterday to protect the sea inlets of the plant from the oil slick which has reached the emirate's beaches from the sunken tanker Zainab.

A spokesman at the Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (Sewa) said that the plant was shut down last evening after small patches of oil were spotted in the area near the plant's sea inlets. "This is a temporary, precautionary measure until the oil slick is fully treated," the spokesman said.

The spokesman added that Sewa had taken precautions to protect the desalination plant following news that the vessel sank. "We are also cooperating with the local and federal authorities to ensure that the oil slick is dealt with as soon as possible," the spokesman said.

The plant will be reopened only when the authority is sure that there are no oil patches near the plant's water intakes. The Al Liyya Water Desalination Plant produces 23 million gallons of water per day. Its full daily capacity, however, is 27.5 million gallons.

"The total desalinated water output in the emirate is 60 million gallons per day," said the spokesman. The Zulal Drinking Water Factory, which is part of Sewa, will also be closed.