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Emergency teams battle oil spill in Ras Al-Zour

Power, water plants sealed –  NGO blames govt –  EPA vows action 

Photos released by the Environment Public Authority show an oil spill near southern Ras Al-Zour in Arabian Gulf waters. — AP

KUWAIT: Emergency workers are battling to contain an oil spill near a joint Kuwaiti-Saudi oilfield that stained beaches, threatened to damage power plants and water stations and left long black slicks in the Arabian Gulf. “The major portion of the main oil spill has been removed,” Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC) spokesman Sheikh Talal Al-Khaled Al-Sabah said in a statement. Teams were still working to clean other parts of the spill and coastal areas, he said.

Footage from the Environment Public Authority showed oil tarring the beaches and in the waters off the southern area of Ras Al-Zour. Officials have opened an investigation into the spill. “There will be severe consequences to those responsible for this incident, and we will prosecute them,” said Sheikh Abdullah Al-Sabah, head of the Environment Public Authority. He urged residents to keep away from affected areas, which lie north of the Khairan private beach and resort area, where many Kuwaitis spend most of the summer in beach houses.

Khaled Al-Hajeri, the president of Kuwait’s Green Line Society, said the environmental non-profit organization holds the government responsible for any damage or health effects of the spill. “The government failed to issue a statement communicating the severity of this disaster. There was no warning to people against fishing or entering the polluted area, even though it is close to some of the most popular summer destinations in Kuwait,” he said. “This is what happens when under-qualified individuals handle the government’s most sensitive environment entity.”

Hajeri said the spill began days ago and that activists from his group informed authorities about it on Aug 10. “This media blackout is intentional, and wrong. People have the right to know. This will have an impact on the fish, the food people consume, and it directly affects their health and safety,” he added. “I blame the Environment Public Authority for neglecting its role in discovering the spill before it reached our coasts, and for not knowing its source,” he told Kuwait Times.

Hajeri said there are three possible sources for the oil spill. “It can only be from a Kuwaiti oil company, Saudi oil company or from an oil tanker in deep waters. We are now waiting for the results by the Regional Organization for the Protection of the Marine Environment (ROPME) which has an emergency center in Bahrain to find out the source,” he said.

“I warn people to stay away from this spill, and they should not swim in the affected areas. It’s very dangerous if the skin comes in contact with the oil. Also, the spill has given rise to toxic gases that evaporate from it due to the heat. It’s also very dangerous for fish and other creatures living in the sea,” he stated. “I don’t expect that the spill will spread towards Kuwait City due to the currents’ direction. Most probably, it may reach Saudi Arabia,” Hajeri added.

“Emergency oil teams are still struggling to put an oil spill near Kuwait’s southern Ras Al-Zour area under control,” said KPC spokesman Sheikh Talal said in an earlier statement carried by the official KUNA news agency. Emergency teams from Kuwait Oil Company (KOC), Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC), several other oil companies, the Ministry of Electricity and Water and Environment Public Authority have harnessed all efforts and capabilities to deal with the oil spill in south Kuwait, he said in a press release. They are now focusing their efforts on protecting water outlets near the country’s northern and southern Al-Zour power and water stations, the spokesman added.

Boats and crews have been putting booms into the water to try and contain the spill. Officials want to protect waterways, power plants and water facilities first, then clean surrounding beaches. There were no official reports on the source or size of the spill in the waters off Kuwait’s southern coast, near the joint Kuwaiti-Saudi offshore Al-Khafji oilfield. Kuwaiti media however yesterday quoted local oil experts as saying the spill originated from an old 50-km pipeline from Al-Khafji. The experts estimated that as many as 35,000 barrels of crude oil may have leaked into the waters off Al-Zour, where Kuwait is building a massive $30 billion oil complex that includes a 615,000-barrel-per-day refinery.

Emergency teams have sealed off two power and water desalination plants in the area to prevent the contamination of drinking water. Kuwait depends largely on desalination for its fresh water supplies. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, located south of Kuwait along the Gulf coast, said the spill had not reached their waters. Saudi Arabia said that it had put into action a “crisis management plan” and was conducting an aerial survey of its oil plants along the coast in a statement published by the official SPA news agency. The Kuwait Petroleum Corporation said teams from Saudi Arabian Chevron and the Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL) had joined the teams cleaning the coastal waters.

The joint operations center in Khafji said facilities there have not been affected by the spill. In a press statement, Khafji Joint Operations (KJO) Public and Government Relations Officer Riyadh Al-Hassan pointed out that KJO emergency plan was enforced immediately following the reports about oil leakage from an oil tanker in northeastern Arabian Gulf waters. This included an aerial surveillance of the area to check the safety of the facilities and coasts, he said. He emphasized that the surveillance showed that all KJO facilities are okay and spotted no oil spill in its operations zone.

By Nawara Fattahova and Agencies

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