Gulf of Aqaba hit by oil spill from cargo ship off Jordan's Red Sea shore

Jordanian authorities say oil spots 'continue to emerge' but do not reveal the size of the spill

Egyptian workers cleaning traces of oil in Dahab on August 17. Photo: Egyptian Ministry of Environment
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A fuel oil spill from a ship has polluted parts of the Aqaba coast and waters in nearby countries, Jordanian authorities said on Tuesday.

The spill, which officials say occurred a week ago and has been washing up Egypt's shoreline, comes less than two months after a chlorine gas explosion at the Aqaba port killed 13 people.

The authorities have not given any information on the size of the spill.

Pollution is a sensitive topic in Jordan and Egypt, which depend on their sea outlets to attract tourists not only to beaches and reefs but also as a gateway to archaeological and other sites.

Nidal Al Majali, an Aqaba Economic Zone official, told the state-owned paper Al Dustoor that government teams have been working to “isolate and remove the pollution” from the Aqaba container terminal and from other parts of the 26-kilometre coastline.

“Work is ongoing to deal with oil spill since seven days,” he said.

He said the spill was due to a “fault” in the fuel tanks of a vessel he identified as Flower of Sea “while it was docking in Jordanian territorial waters”.

“The continued emergence of oil spots is due to changes in the direction and speed of the wind,” Mr Al Majali said.

“Some spots have been seen on the shores of neighbouring countries,” he said.

The Marine Vessel Traffic tracking website shows the vessel's last position 12 days ago in the Gulf of Suez and heading to Aqaba.

It lists the vessel as a cargo ship designed to carry cars and other wheeled machines. It was built in 1987 and flies the flag of Palau, a small island country east of the Philippines.

A Jordanian businessmen who had just returned to Amman after kitesurfing in Aqaba said he felt the fuel oil on his feet but most of it appeared to have been blown by strong winds to Egypt.

“One can smell it in the water deep offshore,” he said, adding that the beaches were full.

Aqaba, which has a 190,000 population, is just north of Saudi Arabia and faces Israel and Egypt. It is Jordan’s only sea outlet.

A European resident of the Egyptian resort of Dahab, 100km from Aqaba across the Red Sea, said she has been seeing oil spots washed on to the shore.

Many swimmers who went into the water emerged with large black stains on their skin, she said.

“Volunteers are cleaning since a week here and they are not done,” she said. “Dahab is hardly the only place where it washed up and we don't know if the patch in Jordan is under control.”

“Nobody knows which unpopulated places along the Red Sea might be affected.”

Updated: June 17, 2023, 7:33 AM