Jordan may need specialist help to clean up Aqaba oil spill

About 11 tonnes of fuel oil leaked from a ship off Jordan's Red Sea coast on August 14

Oil from the spill on the Jordanian side of the Gulf of Aqaba. Photo: The National
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Jordanian authorities are still working to clean up oil that leaked from ship two weeks ago and washed up in a marine reserve along its Aqaba coast on the Red Sea, officials and residents said.

After announcing that the August 14 spill in Jordanian territorial waters was minor and would be contained within hours, state television said on Sunday that 11 tonnes of spilled fuel oil caused "damage to a number of piers at the container terminal and the passenger port and to a number of Aqaba's southern beaches".

State television said the leak "spread to large areas over three days because of the wind and waves, and a large proportion reached the beaches".

"Some divers were exposed to oil spots when entering and exiting the water," the report said.

The coastline of the Aqaba Marine Reserve, which contains the kingdom's only surviving coral reef, is 12 kilometres long.

The environment in the Gulf of Aqaba, shared by Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, has been severely degraded by decades of overfishing, waste disposal, heavy coastal construction and industrial contamination.

A Jordanian official told The National that government teams would require more equipment and knowhow to deal with the spill in hard-to-reach places at the port and in other areas of Aqaba.

“Our cadets picked up a significant amount of oil already but in certain areas it will require more specialist knowhow to clean it up,” the official, who did not want to be named, said.

Residents of Aqaba say oil spots have appeared on the coastline and that diving has been halted in several locations. Video footage taken by one resident showed crabs covered with oil on the coastline.

The spill is obvious in several parts of the coast and we can can feel and smell it when we go in the water
Aqaba resident

"The spill is obvious in several parts of the coast and we can can feel and smell it when we go in the water," said one Aqaba resident, who did not want to be identified.

"You can see it in shallow water covering the top of the corals."

A case regarding the oil spill was referred to a public prosecutor last week. It is not known whether any action has been taken against companies or people linked to the vessel.

Jordanian officials initially said the fuel oil leaked from the Palau-flagged Flower of Sea. They have not said whether the ship is still in Jordanian waters or whether any of its crew have been detained.

The Equasis shipping database shows that the Flower of Sea has been owned by Bernice Shipping since 2013 and operated by Sea Gate Management from the same year.

The companies, which are Egyptian, did not respond to The National's request for comment.

Khamis Khammash, head of the Aqaba Divers Association, said divers on a boat first reported the spill to the authorities after seeing the oil floating on the water near the Flower of Sea.

"Wind quickly split it into parts," Mr Khammash told The National.

He said diving in some areas had stopped, including at a popular spot containing a sunken plane.

The Flower of the Sea is listed on another international database as designed to carry cars and other wheeled vehicles and was built in the late 1980s.

But a shipping source in Amman said that the vessel could be carrying other cargo.

"It could also have been converted to a fuel oil vessel," the source said.

Jordanian Hotel Association data shows that occupancy in Aqaba dropped last weekend to 80 per cent from full occupancy the weekend before. Data is not available for this weekend.

In Dahab, an Egyptian resort about 160km south-west of Aqaba city, a clean-up effort carried out mostly by volunteers was continuing.

Oil washed up on the shore there and swimmers emerged from the water with black spots on them, one volunteer said.

"The situation is better," the volunteer said. "But we are not yet done."

Updated: August 29, 2022, 8:02 AM