Environmental disaster once again threatens the Dubai coastline, as an oil tanker carrying 1,300 tons of fuel is reported to have sank. The incident also brings into question the indirect cost to the region of the UN sanctions policies against Iraq.
The tanker is the Zainab, an Iraqi vessel registered in Georgia. According to the UAE Federal Environmental Agency, it sank 16.5 nautical miles north of Jebel Ali at around 2 p.m., UAE time.
The whereabouts of the ship’s crew and its Iraqi captain are unclear. While some reports said that they are still unaccounted for, others said that they had all been plucked out of the sea unharmed.
According to AFP, an environmental official from the UAE reported that the Zainab was destined for Pakistan, when it was intercepted in Gulf waters toward the end of last week by a US naval vessel, which is enforcing the UN sanctions against Iraq. The US ship escorted the Iraqi taker to the spot where it eventually sank.
No details were given as to why the Iraqi vessel sank, but the 36-year-old tanker was reportedly in a state of bad repair.
An emergency meeting to discuss how to contain the oil spill from the Zainab, and so protect the beaches in Dubai and Sharjah, was called by Hamad Abdul Rahman Al-Madfa, the UAE minister of health and the chairman of the Federal Environmental Agency. Of immediate concern is the need to pump out oil still stored in the ship’s tanks, which also may help salvage the vessel.
Environmental issues are not the only concern. A severe oil slick could force the UAE authorities to close down several of the desalination plants on which the country depends for fresh water.
This has happened before. In 1998, an accident involving a barge laden with crude oil from Iran, which was being towed by a Dubai-registered tug boat, resulted in some 4,000 tons of crude oil spilling into the sea, off the coast of the Emirate of Ajman. As a result, the Ajman desalination plant was shut down in a 'precautionary' measure.
Pakistan has been an important oil client of the Iraqi authorities, ever since the oil-for-food program was introduced in 1996, and according to which the United Nations relaxed its sanctions policy against the country by allowing the sale of oil from Iraq in return for the supply of basic commodities. Pakistan supplied Iraq with around $11 million worth of food and medicine under the first four phases of the oil program.
In March, Pakistan has agreed to export to Iraq 100,000 ton of wheat and 400,000 tons of rice under the UN oil-for-food program The two countries have struck a deal of exporting 100,000 tons of wheat worth $20 million and 400,000 tons of rice.
Iraq also expressed interest in ordering more wheat and rice from Pakistan and negotiations continued between the two sides are going on for another export of 150,000 tons. These deals would be subject to evaluation and approval by the United Nations. — (Albawaba-MEBG)
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