Murder, hijackings and horror: help needed to uncover the true crime tales of the UAE

New project seeks volunteers to research new book about the darker side of life in the 1980s

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - October 1st, 2017: Book: Catastrophes, Crashes and Crimes in the UAE. Sunday, October 1st, 2017 at The National, Abu Dhabi.
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Wanted: volunteers to unearth the catastrophes, crashes and crimes of the UAE. Must have patience and a fascination with the macabre.

The assignment is not as dangerous as it sounds. It requires combing through the newspapers of the National Archives in Abu Dhabi for some of the less appealing aspects of life in the 1980s.

The intention is turn the research into a book. An earlier volume, Catastrophes, Crashes and Crimes in the UAE, was published last year.

That dealt with the 1970s, and covered everything from airline hijackings in Dubai to the assassination in Abu Dhabi of Saif Ghobash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.

Hijackings were very much part of life in the 1970s, with five involving Dubai and at least two instances in which Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, now Ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the UAE, played a key role in negotiations as UAE Defence Minister.

Disease was another constant hazard. The UAE experienced serious outbreaks of cholera in several emirates during the 1970s, as well cases of polio and malaria. Medical advances have now wiped out all three diseases in the country.

Lesser known stories included the “discovery” of the “abominable fishgirl” on a beach in Dubai. The half woman, half fish tale turned out to be a hoax. In another case, an Emirati claimed to have photographed a UFO, although the images looked suspiciously like a balloon.

Forgotten tragedies include deaths of perhaps 170 Pakistanis in 1975 who were being smuggled to Fujairah. Like today’s refugees, many died at sea in the hope of finding a better life.

The project was the idea of Athol Yates, who lectures at Khalifa University. The 1970s volume was approved by the National Media Council and featured a forward by Major General Jassem Muhammad Al Marzouqui, Commander in Chief of Abu Dhabi Civil Defence.

This year Dr Yates is joined by Mohammed Alolama, with the team looking for volunteers who can give up several hours to help search for stories held in the newspaper collection of the National Archives.

The 80's saw a growth of English language newspapers in the UAE. By contrast, research for the previous volume was restricted to a handful of publications, all now defunct. They included the Gulf Mirror, which was based out of Bahrain but had a bureau in the UAE and the Abu Dhabi News, which in turn became UAE News and finally Emirates News.

The search will take place on October 25 and 26, and October 30 and 31, with the intention of publishing the next volume later this year.

“This is a way of carrying these stories forward to the next generation," Mr Alolama said.

"They are not documented anymore and we need to learn what happened and the lessons that were learnt.”

Anyone interested in taking part can contact Dr Yates at