Times - LIVE
Red Sea oil 'cover-up'
Government accused of hiding information about spill reaching beaches
June 21, 2010
The Egyptian government has been accused of trying to cover up a major oil spill in the Red Sea that has affected holiday beaches along the resort coast of Hurghada.
Environmentalists monitoring the area have taken pictures of oil-encrusted beaches and tracked the spill to an offshore rig operated by a subsidiary of the state petroleum company.
But Petroleum Minister Sameh Fahmy claimed that the cause of the "leak" is unknown. Private laboratory tests completed yesterday revealed that the oil found on the beaches and the oil leaking from the rig were from the same source.
The rig is offshore, near the island of Geisum, a rocky outcrop 35km from the Egyptian coast. It is operated by state-owned Geisum Oil.
Officials of the company implied that Geisum Oil was responsible for the spill yesterday when they said the leak had been capped.
The government's environment and tourism ministries later officially noted that the spill had been contained and that measures were being taken to ''deal with the pollution caused".
But even the government-aligned Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Agency has labelled the damage caused by the spill as "catastrophic".
The agency's head, Amr Ali, has called for "stringent action" following a visit to the polluted beaches by Fahmy and Junior Environment Minister Maged George. They were to take charge of a hurried, land-based, clean-up operation that now extends to Al Gouna, 50km south of the initial pollution.
Ali has admitted that the spill was first noticed around the legs of the offshore platform "four or five days" ago, but that no notification was given.
And there were no attempts to contain the spillage.
An environmental monitor who has examined the coastal damage claimed yesterday that "the government is planning a cover-up".
He reported that hundreds of birds and turtles had been killed by the oil since the spill began. Dolphins, which frequent the area, are also affected.
Disasters of this kind, whether resulting from the activities of state-owned enterprises or private companies, are seldom officially acknowledged by governments.
Resort owners and diving centres along the coast say they have lodged complaints with Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif but he has made no comment.
Egyptian officials are particularly concerned about cancellations by European tourists if news of the extent of the damage to the beaches become widely known. Of particular concern is the potential damage to the resort town of Al Gouna, the brainchild of billionaire investor Al Gouna. It is the site of the largest residential investment in Egypt.
*Photo by HEPCA
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