Jordan impounds Egyptian ship blamed for oil spill in Aqaba marine reserve

Footage shows the Flower of Sea still moored in Jordanian waters 16 days after spill

Flower of Sea, the Egyptian-owned vessel Jordanian authorities say was behind an oil spill on August 14 that spread to large areas of Aqaba's Red Sea coast. Photo: The National
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Jordanian authorities have impounded an Egyptian-owned ship the government blames for an oil spill that contaminated a marine reserve on the kingdom’s Red Sea coast and spread to Egypt, a maritime official in the southern port city of Aqaba told The National.

The August 14 spill at Aqaba, Jordan's only maritime waterway, has been the worst in the area for decades. It has spread to the 12-kilometre shoreline of the Aqaba Marine Reserve, which contains the kingdom's surviving coral reef, a major tourist attraction.

Data from the ship's transponder says it has been in Aqaba since August 13.

The official in Jordan’s Maritime Commission said on condition of anonymity that the Flower of Sea, a 35-year old ship Jordanian authorities blame for the fuel oil spill, has been banned from leaving Aqaba.

“The action was taken pending the decision of the public prosecutor,” the official said.

The government referred the case to Aqaba’s public prosecutor 10 days ago, official media reported, saying the spill had spread to neighbouring countries.

The Flower of Sea has been owned by Bernice Shipping, an Egyptian company, since 2013. It has been operated by Sea Gate Management, which is also Egyptian, from the same year, data by the Equasis shipping database shows. Equasis says that half of the inspections made on the Flower of Sea in last 36 months “led to detention" of the ship.

The National contacted the two companies for comment but did not receive a reply.

Video footage of the Flower of Sea, taken by a resident of Aqaba, shows it moored off the Aqaba port in the southern section of Jordan’s 24-kilometre coast line.

Jordanian authorities initially said that 11-tonne fuel spill was minor and would be contained within hours.

But on Tuesday, official television said the spill damaged large sections of beaches along with piers at Aqaba’s container and passenger ports.

Residents of the Egyptian resort city of Dahab, 100 kilometres across the bay from Aqaba, reported contamination on the Egyptian side of the shore and swimmers emerging from the water with black spots on their skin.

Witnesses in Aqaba said oil had been increasingly been washing up on the shores of the marine reserve in the last few days.

The accident came as Jordan counts on tourism revenue to recover from the effects of Covid-19, after economic stagnation deepened in the last three years and unemployment climbed to a record official high of 23 to 24 per cent.

One diving instructor in Aqaba, who did not want to be named, said traces of the spill were still at the main diving sites.

“You can smell it and it sticks on rope and other equipment,” he said. “We have not had any clients for days.”

Updated: August 30, 2022, 4:16 PM