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Sunday, 22 April, 2001, 11:31 GMT 12:31 UK
Oil tanker spill threatens Gulf
Russian tanker caught smuggling Iraqi oil in February 2000
Smuggling of oil from Iraq is common in the Gulf
Strong winds and tides are frustrating attempts to contain an oil spill from a sunken tanker in the Gulf.

United Arab Emirates Interior Ministry official Seif Shaafar said the government was consulting a private company on how to dispose of the Zainab, which went down in rough seas last week.

The government is considering transferring the ship's cargo of roughly 1,300 tonnes of fuel oil to another vessel and raising the Georgian-flagged tanker.

In the aftermath of the sinking, UAE Health Minister Hamad Abdul-Rahman al-Madfa said that coastguard divers had managed to plug holes in the ship through which oil had been pouring.

The oil slick is spreading along the coast of the UAE
He said environmentally safe chemicals were being used to treat the oil slick, which had begun to disperse.

But the spill has now reached the coastline and there are fears that the desalination plants which supply the Gulf states with fresh water will be affected.

Desalination is the UAE's main source of fresh water.

Crew 'rescued'

The Zainab sank off the port of Jebel Ali, south of Dubai, on 14 April.

All 11 crew members, including the Iraqi captain, are said to have been rescued.

A US Navy official said the vessel was smuggling Iraqi oil in violation of United Nations sanctions.

An Emirates official said the Zainab was a very old Iraqi tanker that was travelling from Iraq to Pakistan.

Interception

US Commander Jeff Gradeck said the ship had been intercepted several days before it sank by the multinational force that enforces sanctions against Iraq.

It was the 24th vessel to be impounded by the force so far this year.

He said it was on its way to a holding area in international waters for sanction-busting ships when it ran into trouble.

Tankers carrying smuggled Iraqi oil routinely pass through the waters of the Emirates, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

Correspondents say the fragile marine environment of the Gulf is regularly under attack from tankers which flush out their holds at sea.

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See also:

16 Apr 01 | Middle East
Gulf tanker spill 'under control'
26 Feb 01 | Middle East
Powell aims to plug Iraqi oil flow
30 Jan 01 | Middle East
Iran proposes anti-pollution force
23 Jan 01 | Americas
Spotlight on oil transport risks
22 Nov 00 | Middle East
Iraq denies oil exports to Syria
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