Shoppers flee as mall aquarium springs leak

A crack in Dubai Mall's aquarium, one of the world's largest tanks, floods several areas of the attraction.

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DUBAI // A crack in Dubai Mall's aquarium, one of the world's largest tanks, flooded several areas of the attraction yesterday, sending shoppers into a panic. Security staff cordoned off large sections of the mall as inch-deep pools of water formed near the aquarium, which holds 10 million litres of water and more than 30,000 marine creatures. Nearby shops were evacuated and civil defence and police officers attended the scene.

The breach in the tank's walls occurred around noon. Visitors on the ground floor noticed water dripping down from the ceiling, which then became a torrent. There was chaos as shoppers, baffled by what was happening and apparently unable to get clear answers from mall staff, rushed for cover. Many were told by security staff that the aquarium was cordoned off for "maintenance" work. Matthew Schrieber, 56, from Germany, said: "I saw all this water on the floor and staff running around with mops. Then we were told to leave but nobody would tell us what happened."

Ali Ahmed, 43, from Lebanon, who was shopping with his wife Noura, 41, said the incident had been "badly handled" and that the mall should have been closed entirely. "All that water pressure behind it, and they're telling us it is nothing. Why don't they tell us what is really happening?" he said. Up to 300 cleaners mopped up water from the floors around the aquarium's main viewing panel, one mall manager said.

Onlookers who tried to capture the drama on camera phones were asked to stop by security staff. Lt Col Omar al Shamsi, the director of Dubai Police's command and control room, said he had received a report saying the aquarium had been damaged. A spokesman for Dubai Mall said the crack was quickly repaired and would not have affected the thousands of species in the tank. "A leakage was noticed at one of the panel joints and was immediately fixed by the aquarium's maintenance team," he said. "The leakage did not impact the aquarium environment or the safety of the aquatic animals."

By 3pm, security officers had removed some of the tape near the scene, but a barrier keeping people 30 metres away from the tank remained in place. Some shops closed for the day. John and Rosemary Rooney, visiting from Northern Ireland, said security staff had cordoned off too many areas, including many apparently unaffected by the leak. "Where I come from, if a place is cordoned off to this extent you imagine there's a bomb scare," said Mr Rooney, 57. His wife added: "It's a bit crazy to cordon off the whole place like this when it's only one area that's affected."

Shaun Lenehan, a marine expert, said a drop in the water level in the aquarium would not adversely affect the aquatic life. "There would be no damage to the fish or the temperature in an aquarium of such a size," he said. An aquarium expert, who did not want to be named, said the leak had probably not been as serious as it appeared. "Fixing the leak is not the problem, finding the cause of it is the big problem," he said. "It is not that it would burst as it is made from acrylic and not glass."

It was unclear how much water had leaked. The cordon made it impossible for onlookers to get a clear view of the tank, and Emaar, the mall's developer, gave no indication of the extent of the damage.