Sunken dhow wrecks spark concerns about peril in UAE waters

The wrecks of sunken dhows discovered at the bottom of Port Rashid may be hazardous and need to be examined, says an expert.

DUBAI // Two previously unnoticed sunken dhows have been discovered in the waters at Port Rashid.

The wrecks were found by a British Royal Navy ship on a nine-month deployment to the Middle East.

The vessels, each about 20 metres long, rise about five metres from the seabed of the harbour and are large enough to pose a danger to shipping, the Royal Navy said.

Having surveyed the wrecks, they passed the data to Dubai's port authority and other mariners have been alerted to the presence of the dhows.

The dhows were discovered by HMS Enterprise and her new survey motor boat, Spitfire, during two days of surveying work off Dubai.

Commander Derek Rae, the commanding officer of the Enterprise, said the chance to carry out the survey training, granted by the authorities in Dubai, was "invaluable".

"The outcome of the training has been mutually beneficial and we are delighted to have been of assistance to other mariners," he said on the Royal Navy's website.

It was the first real test for the survey boat, which had undergone trials in the UK and around Souda Bay in Crete, Greece.

Multi-beam sonars were used to carry out the scanning and 3D graphic representations were produced by the software and computer systems on the British ship.

"The level of detail visible on the wrecks shows the impressive capability of the new survey motor boat and the opportunity afforded to us by the local authorities in Dubai to conduct this survey training has been invaluable," Commander Rae said.

Peter Jackson, an architectural adviser with the Government of Sharjah, said the find should be examined.

"If it is in the port, I'm sure if it is sticking up five metres it certainly would be a hazard," he said yesterday. "It obviously needs to be checked out. Five metres is a lot.

"If it is that big and sticking out of the sand I'm surprised it hasn't been found before now."

Mr Jackson, who has a special interest in maritime conservation, said the location of the wrecks in relation to the seabed suggested the dhows were relatively modern.

"If it's on the surface of the seabed and it is still sizeable and intact - obviously they can tell the dimensions of it - then I would suspect it is not so old as it would disintegrate very rapidly," he said.

"If it rises five metres above the seabed it's probably a late 20th-century dhow, a relatively modern wreck. They deteriorate so rapidly in the water. If it was an old wreck below the seabed it could survive in anaerobic conditions."

There have been no underwater archeology excavations conducted in the UAE, just surveys, Mr Jackson added.

"Maritime archeology is a new topic - a new area for research," he said. "There has been a lot of dry archeology across the UAE, and of course it has yielded some very impressive results.

"But underwater, it's new and something that I think that we are just beginning to look at."

The findings of such work would be significant.

"The UAE ports were really important. They were the links. They were what gave existence to the towns," Mr Jackson said.

"Sharjah, Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah, they were maritime ports so it's quite likely that there is a lot of archeology and we would get a lot of information about the vessels and about the nature of the trade," he said.

The Royal Navy said HMS Enterprise would conduct survey work in the Middle East until May. It comes after the vessel's sister ship, HMS Echo, discovered numerous wrecks and obstacles during a 19-month deployment to the region.

As well as updating some of the 3,300-plus Admiralty Charts, used by seafarers around the globe, the ship will also help the wider international naval effort to prevent piracy and other criminal activities in the Indian Ocean and surroundings, the Royal Navy added.