Red Sea Pollution [Archives:1998/05/Business & Economy]

February 2 1998

Abdullah Hamood Abu Al-Fotouh, Marine Environment Officer Environment Protection Council
The primary source of sea pollution is the uncontrolled dumping of ship waste into the sea. These sea vessels can be ordinary cargo ships, oil tankers, ocean liners, or even tourist boats. All sorts of solid and liquid waste is dumped, including human waste, damaged cargo and oil. Major environmental disasters occur when two oil tankers, say, collide or tanker hits a coral reef and huge amounts of oil are discharged into the sea. Faulty oil tankers are also a major source of pollution when oil is released, by accident or deliberately, causing the infamous oil slicks.
The increase in shipping activities and marine tourism is adding an extra burden on this already highly threatened environment. Around 60 ships a day (18,000 a year) pass through the Bab Al-Mandab straits, drastically increasing the risk of sea pollution. In spite of that, the level of Red Sea pollution remains relatively low due to its semi-closed nature.
Different to other regional seas in other parts of the world, the major source of pollution in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden is not from the land but from the ships and the activities of oil exploration, production, and export. Although oil is a good source of income for Yemen, it also remains a major source of polluting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Yemeni oil is exported mainly through the ports of Ras Isa and Hodeida
Due to the increasing dangers of oil pollution, demand for the expertise of emergency treatment of oil slicks  has dramatically risen. The countries overlooking the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden have formed a regional body for the Protection of the Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (PERSGA) in 1995. The regional agreement signed in 1992 by Arab countries overlooking the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden has become activated with the declaration of PERSGA. A comprehensive action program came into effect to protect all aspects of the marine environment. Discussions have started to find the appropriate means to regulate navigation activities and reduce their dangers.
With help from the Norwegian government, a study is currently being conducted to draw out a regional action plan to reduce navigation risks for safe and easy connections among Arab ports. PERSGA has so far organized two major regional meetings in Aden and Ismailia, Egypt, to specify the main routes of navigation, determine possible flaws and loopholes, and draw out new sea charts.
There is also a project to establish regional centers to fight oil pollution. Three centers will probably be placed on the shores of the northern part of the Red Sea, in the middle – Jeddah or the Port of Sudan – and  in  Djibouti or Aden. In addition to combating oil pollution, these centers’ other jobs will be to train local staff on pollution fighting and rescue ship passengers in the case of accidents