The Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife allayed all fears that the burning Stolt Valour has contaminated the waters around the desalination plants of Bahrain. The Stolt Valour caught fire off the coast of Al Jubail while sailing from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain. Dr Adel Khalifa Al Zayani, Director General of the Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife told a hurriedly called press conference that the vessel is currently about 30 nautical miles north of Qatar.
He said that the vessel had strayed close to Bahrain with the winds taking it there, but the change in wind direction has resulted in the vessel drifting to its position close to Qatar, he added. “A special company, Oil Spill Response Limited, is asked to be on standby. In the event of a spill the company and all the infrastructure Bahrain has will be put to use to contain and clear the spill,” said the director general.
Dr Al Zayani said that aerial surveillance is already being carried out to ascertain the fate of the ship at all times and the environmental commission’s laboratory is at hand to ascertain the quality of water around the desalination plants. “There is no cause for concern as yet,” he added.
The director general added that the ship was drifting north eastwards with the winds. The vessel, under Liberian flag and owned by Stolt Nielssen was carrying 13,000 tonnes of chemicals on board. In addition, it also has 430 tonnes of diesel on board, said Captain A Husain M Abdulla, Head of Maritime Safety and Environment Programe. The owners, Stolt Nielssen, has initiated efforts to cool the vessel’s fuel tank. “Then they will compact the oil and after they will look at the chemical load on board,” said the captain.
Asked about worst case scenario to the environment surrounding the waters where the ship is, Capt. Abdullah said, “If the ship goes down, then the oil will not be a problem, but if it capsizes then there is the concern of the oil seeping out. The chemical loaded on board, however, is not a concern.” He added that the ship carried 13,000 tonnes of chemicals when it set sail from Saudi Arabia. “But a substantial part of this load has burnt in the fire.”
The top priority for the Bahraini authorities is the three desalination plants that are all in the north east – The Sitra plant, the Hidd Power Company and the Al Dour Power and Water station. Fouad A Shaikh Abdulla, Director at the Electricity Generation Directorate of the Electricity and Water Authority, said that the threat to the desalination plants is not from the chemical cargo of the ship but from the diesel fuel that the ship is carrying. “The ship’s 19 tonnes of lube oil and 430 tonnes of diesel is our concern. In the event of this oil spilling and spreading, then it becomes a concern. The desalination catchment areas could be affected,” he said.
Efforts are on, he added, to contain the spread of the oil patch in the event of a spill and ensure that it does not enter the desalination catchment areas. The director said that one of the methods is to covert the oil to globules and let it sink to the seabottom. “At the moment there is no threat of contamination to the water around the three desalination stations. The chemicals being carried by the ship are volatile and they will evaporate,” he added.
Asked about efforts to douse the flames and Bahrain’s efforts at this, Dr Zayani pointed out that the vessel was in Saudi Arabian waters when the fire broke out. Thereafter the owners of the company requested experts for salvaging. The salvaging company began operations with Bahrain as its base.”
The ship, he said, is still is not under the control of Bahrain. At this time, it is the company team working with the owners of the company, said the director general. Dr Al Zayani pointed out that the expert team with five ships is already there. “The major hurdle is the weather – there is poor visibility as seen in a straight line. It is very risky to be close to the ship which could explode. But now with the weather conditions improving, we are optimistic that the experts can do something over the next 24 hours,” he said.
The coast guard is alert at all times to offer help and in undertaking surveillance of the vessel should it move to Bahrain waters, said Lieutenant Colonel Yousef Al Subaii, Head of Operations from the Coast Guard. Ahmed E K Al Quraan, Advisor on Environmental Affairs, Bapco, was seen advising the team on technical issues.