Four commercial vessels targeted by ‘sabotage’ near UAE waters: Foreign ministry

Four commercial vessels were targeted by "sabotage operations" near the territorial waters of the United Arab Emirates. (File/AFP)
Updated 16 May 2019

Four commercial vessels targeted by ‘sabotage’ near UAE waters: Foreign ministry

  • Comes amid rising tensions between neighboring Iran and the US
  • Rumors about ships inside the port being sabotaged were unfounded

DUBAI: Four commercial vessels were targeted by "acts of sabotage" near the territorial waters of the United Arab Emirates on Sunday morning, the UAE foreign ministry said in a statement amid rising tensions between neighboring Iran and the US.

The statement added the vessels, that were targeted near Fujairah and at a distance of 115 kilometers from Iran,  were “civilian trading vessels of various nationalities”, and that the UAE was investigating the incident with local and international bodies. 

Rumors about ships inside the port being sabotaged were unfounded, the ministry added.

The port of Fujairah continues to operate as normal and there were no victims of the sabotage incident.

The ministry added that targeting merchant ships and threatening the lives of crew members is a “dangerous development,” and that the government considers the acts of sabotage to be a threat to the safety and security of the UAE. 

The country called on the international community to prevent any party from compromising maritime safety and security.  

The ministry statement was tweeted by the official news agency WAM.

Lebanon’s pro-Iran satellite channel Al-Mayadeen falsely reported that a series of explosions had struck Fujairah’s port, and the reports were repeated by state media in Iran.

Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, head of the Iranian Parliament’s national security committee, said the “explosions” showed that the security of Gulf states was “like glass.”


The sabotage incident follows a US Maritime Administration warning last week that Iran could target commercial sea traffic. “Since early May, there is an increased possibility that Iran and/or its regional proxies could take action against US and partner interests, including oil production infrastructure, after recently threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz,” the organization said.

“Iran or its proxies could respond by targeting commercial vessels, including oil tankers, or US military vessels in the Red Sea, Bab El Mandeb or the Arabian Gulf.”

Bahrain condemned the acts of sabotage, saying it was a "criminal act" that threatened maritime traffic in the region. The kingdom said it stood with the UAE.

The US deployed the Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the region on May 4 in response to what it said was an “escalated threat” from Iran.

A senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander issued a veiled threat on Sunday to the US military presence in the Gulf.

“An aircraft carrier that has at least 40 to 50 planes on it and 6,000 forces gathered within it was a serious threat for us in the past but now it is a target and the threats have switched to opportunities,” said Amirali Hajjizadeh, head of the Guards’ aerospace division. “If they make a move we will hit them in the head.”

Earlier on Sunday, the UAE emirate of Fujairah denied media reports that claimed a series of explosions had rocked its port on Sunday. 

Claims from a number of news outlets, which were then shared on social media, said there had been explosions on Sunday morning and that fires had broken out on some of the docked oil tankers in the port.

Fujairah government’s media office tweeted a statement on Sunday denying there had been any explosions and that operations were continuing as normal.

It also called on media organizations to be “accurate” in their reporting and to only publish information once it was “confirmed by official sources.”

The harbor master of Fujairah port, who had been on shift at the time, also confirmed that there was no truth to the reports.
 

 


Water-scarce Gulf states bank on desalination, at a cost

Updated 47 min 24 sec ago

Water-scarce Gulf states bank on desalination, at a cost

  • For Oman and other Gulf states dominated by vast deserts, obtaining fresh water from the sea comes at a high cost
  • In Sur, water for residents and businesses comes from a large desalination plant

SUR, OMAN: “We have water, and it’s the most important thing in a house,” says Abdullah Al-Harthi from the port city of Sur in Oman, a country that relies on desalination plants.
But for Oman and the other Gulf countries dominated by vast and scorching deserts, obtaining fresh water from the sea comes at a high financial and environmental cost.
In Sur, south of the capital Muscat, water for residents and businesses comes from a large desalination plant that serves some 600,000 people.
“Before, life was very difficult. We had wells, and water was delivered by trucks,” the 58-year-old told AFP. “Since the 1990s, water has come through pipes and we’ve had no cuts.”
But these benefits — relying on energy intensive processes that produce carbon emissions — do not come without a cost, particularly as global temperatures rise.
The United Nations says 2019 is on course to be one of the hottest three years on record.
And there is another impact: the desalination plants produce highly concentrated salt water, or brine, that is often dumped back into the ocean.
Researchers say more than 16,000 desalination plants around the globe produce more toxic sludge than freshwater.
For every liter of freshwater extracted from the sea or brackish water, a liter-and-a-half of salty slurry is deposed at sea or on land, according to a 2019 study in the journal Science.
All that extra salt raises the temperature of coastal waters and decreases the level of oxygen, which can conspire to create biological “dead zones.”
The super-salty substance is made even more toxic by the chemicals used in the desalination process.
Oman’s bigger neighbors produce the bulk of the brine.
More than half comes from just four countries — Saudi Arabia, at 22 percent, United Arab Emirates with 20 percent, and smaller shares by Kuwait and Qatar, according to UN data.
“Brine production in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar accounts for 55 percent of the total global share,” according to the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health.
It said new strategies are needed “to limit the negative environmental impacts and reduce the economic cost of disposal.”
This would help “to safeguard water supplies for current and future generations.”
At the Sur plant, “almost no chemicals” are used during the pre-treatment phase, as the water is naturally filtered through the cracks of karst rocks, said Mahendran Senapathy, operations manager at French company Veolia which runs the plant along with an Omani firm.
There are other ways to safeguard freshwater supplies, from encouraging savings and efficiently to recycling wastewater.
Antoine Frerot, chief executive of Veolia, said wastewater recycling will help resolve the problem of water scarcity.
He also pointed out that “reused water is less costly,” nearly one third less than that won through desalination.
Omani authorities continue to mount campaigns urging people to use water wisely, mindful that other demands — especially the energy sector — also guzzle up large amounts.
Across the Gulf, huge amounts of water are used not just for homes, gardens and golf courses, but also for the energy sector that is the source of the region’s often spectacular wealth.
On the edge of the Arabian peninsula’s “Empty Quarter,” the world’s largest expanse of sand, lies the Khazzan gas field, operated by BP and the Oman Oil Company.
The method used to extract the gas here is hydraulic fracturing — more commonly known as fracking — said Stewart Robertson, operations manager at the site.
The method requires huge amounts of water. The site is supplied by a facility that provides 6,000 cubic meters of water a day, extracted from an underground aquifer 50 kilometers (30 miles) away.
Fracking involves directional drilling and then pumping water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to fracture rock and release the hydrocarbons.
The rock formations that hold the gas are “like a big sponge with lots of little holes in it,” said Robertson, explaining that fracking is the process “to open those holes slightly to take the gas out.”
So the more the region extracts oil and natural or shale gas, “the more they need water,” said Charles Iceland of the World Resources Institute.
“The Middle East is projected to need more and more energy,” he said. “So that means the situation is going to get worse.”
“On the other hand,” he said, “if they can produce power using solar photovoltaic technologies, which are getting reasonably priced in the Middle East, that would take care of a lot of the problem because solar PV doesn’t need much water.
“You need just some water to clean the solar panels.”