Recently, the inhabitants of the city of Dahab, in the South Sinai Governorate, woke up to find a black spot of oil staining the water, and part of the beach, which came out of Jordan through the Gulf of Aqaba.
There were conflicting statements about the cause of the accident, between a leak coming from the oil fields in Jordan, and another statement stating that the accident occurred as a result of a ship coming from Jordan crossing through the port of Aqaba. All of these are possibilities, which have not been decided upon, as the perpetrator is still unknown, or at least s/he has not been held accountable yet.
Coincidentally, the timing of the accident concurred with Egypt’s preparations for the COP27 climate summit, in which most countries of the world are participating, and kilometers from the aforementioned city, specifically in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Oil stains appeared sporadically on the beaches of Eel Garden, Al-Aslah, and Al-Zarnouk, and it is believed that these oil spots reached the shores of Dahab, due to the speed of the wind, which called on the masses of the population, Egyptians, and foreigners residing there, in cooperation with the city council, to pay the workers of the company responsible for maintaining the city, and the support of about 50 people, from the local community, for manual assistance in removing and eradicating those pollutants.
While the Ministry of Environment did not comment on the matter, until the next day, when the Salam Center for Combating Marine Oil Pollution in Sharm El-Sheikh, affiliated with the Ministry of Environment, was notified to carry out immediate survey and control work, and samples were sent from the affected places for analysis to the laboratories of the branch of the Environmental Affairs Agency in Suez, to find out its source, and to determine the spectral signature of the petroleum pollution sample.
“Environment.. late better than never”
The incident sparked a parliamentary debate, as Representative Abdel Moneim Imam, Secretary of the Parliament’s Planning and Budget Committee, submitted a parliamentary questionnaire to the Minister of Environment about the pollution of a number of beaches in the tourist city of Dahab due to oil spills.
In his questioning, Imam said: “On the morning of Sunday, August 14, the monitoring team on the Red Sea coast detected pollution in sea water with an oily substance, in the dock area of the container port, resulting from the passage of a ship, from Aqaba, coming from Jordan, which led to the pollution of a number of rocky beaches and sands on both sides of the sea.”
He stated that the Ministry of Environment acted as a consequence, and formed a committee to manage the crisis, by communicating with the Al-Salam Center for Combating Marine Oil Pollution in Sharm El-Sheikh, a center affiliated with the ministry.
He added: “The crisis was dealt with, through the city council, and 50 people from the local community, to manually help to save the situation, while samples of oil stains were sent to the laboratories of the Environmental Affairs Agency in Suez, to determine their source.”
He continued, “I submit a number of questions to the Minister of Environment, to find out the ministry’s response to this crisis, in light of Sharm el-Sheikh’s readiness to host the climate conference in the coming months, including: Why was the Ministry of Environment delayed in dealing with a crisis of such severity? Where are the ministry’s tools to deal with such crises, such as oil spill disposal equipment? Especially in light of the country’s readiness to receive a global event such as the Climate Change Summit.”
He continued: Do participants from the local community, or city council workers responsible for beach cleanliness, have an idea of how to deal with this type of crisis? Why is every step taken to solve the crisis in a different governorate? In a more detailed sense, why are there no laboratories to analyze oil slick samples in every coastal governorate? This is in order to avoid delays in knowing the source of the pollution and who is responsible for it, then quickly dealing with the situation, and taking legal measures against the party causing the pollution.
What are the steps taken by the Ministry of Environment to preserve the legal right of Egypt from the harm caused to it as a result of this pollution?
Oil stains.. dangers
Petroleum oil contains organic substances, many of which are considered toxic to living organisms. One of the most dangerous of these compounds is benzopyrene, which is a carcinogenic hydrocarbon, and leads to the death of marine organisms. The fumes are far away, which leads to the pollution of distant places, by the air that has become saturated with them.
Since the density of oil is less than the density of water, it floats on its surface, forming a thin insulating layer between water and air. This layer spreads over a large area of the water surface, and this layer prevents gaseous exchange between air and water, and also prevents the dissolution of oxygen in sea water, which affects the gas balance. Natural cleaning processes may also cause spilled crude oil to mix with sea water, turning into an emulsion containing 10% water, so the water becomes more viscous, and the pollution here is four times the volume of crude oil.
Oil spots affect the fish that humans feed on, making them unfit and poisonous. In one of the reports of the World Health Organization, it was found in a sample of fish, caught in the Gulf of Jakarta, Indonesia, that the percentage of lead in it is 44% more than the permissible limit, and that mercury is 38% more, which represents a great danger to human health.
Legislation vs. Official Efforts:
Egyptian Law No. 4 of 94 criminalizes polluting the marine environment. In Article 50, it states that “the owner of the ship, its captain, or any person responsible for it, and those responsible for oil transportation located within ports or the territorial sea, or the exclusive economic zone of the Arab Republic of Egypt, as well as the companies working in the extraction of oil, to take the initiative to inform the competent administrative authorities of every oil spill accident, as soon as it occurs, with an indication of the location of the circumstances of the accident, the type and quantity of the leaked substance, and the measures taken to stop the leak, or limit it.”
It also imposes penalties of a fine, up to imprisonment, as well as an obligation to remove the damage, for all ships of different nationalities and types, including ships of a country not bound by the International Convention on the Marine Environment, if it dumps oil, or an oily mixture, and dumps, or junks prohibited in the territorial sea, or in the exclusive economic zone of Egypt. It is the article whose texts are often not applied despite the repetition of the offense, and the ease of identifying the culprit.
As for the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution to the Marine Environment, it recognizes that the release of oils and other harmful substances from ships, whether intentionally, unintentionally, or due to negligence, constitutes a serious source of pollution. In Article 12 of it specifically stipulates:
(1) Each administration undertakes to conduct an investigation into accidents affecting its ships subject to the provisions of the regulations, if such accidents result in serious harm to the marine environment.
(2) Each Party to the Agreement undertakes to provide the Organization with information relating to the results of such investigation, if it considers that such information may assist in identifying changes that may be desired to be made to this Agreement.
Recently, the United Nations included the reduction of marine pollution within the fourteenth goal of the sustainable development goals, under the name (life under water).
It is worth noting that Egypt submitted its first, second and third national communications to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1999, 2010 and 2016 respectively, in which it revealed that Egypt is a country suffering from pollution and water stress.
In this regard, it promised to adapt to the climate in the North Coast and the Nile Delta in Egypt, from 2018 to 2024, but it did not specify clear frameworks in this regard.
Marine Environment.. Legitimate Questions:
The case raises more legitimate questions, which are repeated with each similar incident. As it was not the first of its kind, but rather the third incident during the last ten years in the Sinai region, specifically in 2013 and 2019, and each time the perpetrator is not held accountable or prosecuted.
Naturally, these problems lead us to questions regarding:
– The extent of the seriousness of the environmental initiatives announced by official authorities from time to time. For example, starting in September 2020, Egypt launched the “Eco Egypt” campaign, as the first campaign to promote ecotourism, which is part of the presidential initiative entitled “Get ready for the green”, in cooperation with the United Nations Development Program, and the project to integrate biodiversity in tourism, to search for the best ways to promote ecotourism, and to help give an added value to the conservation of natural resources in tourism activities.
This campaign specifically includes a program related to the protection of the marine environment from pollution, by enriching the research and training aspect to hone the skills of workers in this field, and developing educational curricula related to the marine environment and its protection, which was expected to have an impact on those accidents.
The extent to which Egypt’s declaration is applied is the use of many methods to measure pollution and guard against it from a distance, or early warning as it is called, which is the project that Egypt was announced, specifically in the year 2020, as winner, as it works on using satellite data in the early monitoring of the sources of oil pollution the marines in Egypt, North African countries, in the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic Gulf, and the follow-up of oil spills, which seriously affect the marine environment, natural reserves, transportation, and all marine activities, with the participation of the countries of Morocco, Tunisia and Mauritania.
The project monitors spots of marine oil pollution in North Africa, using satellites, and creates an open-source electronic platform for these countries, containing all pictures, modern maps, and data on marine oil pollution, which are monitored by satellites on a daily basis, which contributes to preserving life and activities. marine in Africa.
– Questions regarding the speed of work of the central operations room, to receive communications regarding the pollution problem, and its special committee in the Ministry of Environment, to confront any emergency incidents.
The extent of activating the articles of the law related to the prosecution of the perpetrator of similar accidents, as well as the extent of coordination internationally and regionally, with neighboring countries, and before the damage occurs.
Pollution of the marine environment.. Recommendations:
The third global report, of the United Nations Environment Program, stated that the planet is at a crossroads, a quarter of the world’s mammals, and 12% of birds, are already at risk of extinction. The world’s seas are already under real threat from pollution, and a third of the world’s fish stocks are now classified as depleted or endangered.
This makes the pollution of the seas a major event, which requires taking several precautionary measures, given that it is a major environment for many living organisms, and a source of protein needed to feed the growing population. The arrival of oil spills to the beaches, harms tourism. In addition to the fact that the seas and oceans are a source of desalination plants, especially in a country that suffers from stress on fresh water supplies.
Previously, the Ministry of Environment announced, according to its official website, the establishment of 22 instantaneous monitoring stations during 2021, to monitor the quality of the waters of the Nile River and lakes, through an information system that relies on modern technologies. It is a project whose time has come to implement with regard to the marine environment.
It is also possible to apply the automatic diagnosis system. It differs in nature from the early warning system, which is a wireless device that monitors the area and gives all information about the ship whose tonnage exceeds 400 tons and which is sailing in the area.
This information includes the quality of the ship, its size, and the quality of the cargo carried. The system information is linked to the electronic tracking system, after receiving pollution reports.
In addition to examining the water continuously to ensure that it is free of oil contaminants, and if there is an increase in the percentage of pollutants, the concerned authority is informed of the place where the increase was detected, and the accident is followed up until the causes that led to it are identified quickly and decisively.