Nine divers and a salvage expert from a shipping services company will leave Dubai early this morning to conduct an underwater survey to pump out more than 3,000 metric tonnes of oil from the sunken vessel Zainab.

The team will leave Jebel Ali Port at 7am for the site where the Zainab sank on Saturday with its cargo of smuggled Iraqi oil. They will locate the tanks containing the oil, which will be transferred to another tanker immediately after the initial survey of the ship which is lying in about 40 metres of water.

A shipping industry source said it will be difficult to pump out the oil and salvage the vessel. "It will be a difficult job because the vessel is originally a cargo ship with multiple modified tanks," he said.

The vessel is more than 36 years old, owned by an Iraqi company called Al Amal Shipping and flew the Georgian flag. The vessel reportedly was on it way from Iraq to Pakistan when it was intercepted by UN naval forces.

Meanwhile, Unesco's GCC Regional Office in Doha called for regional cooperation to combat oil spills. It also said an oil spill combat plan is urgently needed in the Gulf. The organisation proposed a regional early warning system to detect marine pollution. "This should be based on oil spill sensitivity maps, satellite observation and on daily aerial surveys of the region by aircraft," it said a statement.

Unesco said this system must be complemented by a regional "oil spill rapid action task force" that will also try to contain the leakage of oil as much as possible, preventing oil slicks from reaching sensitive areas such as desalination plants.