C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MUSCAT 000151
STATE FOR OES/OA; NEA/ARPI (TROBERTS)
AMMAN FOR EST HUB (JWHITTLESEY)
NAVCENT FOR POLAD
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/26/2015
TAGS: SENV EWWT PHSA ETRD EPET MU ESTH
SUBJECT: OIL SPILL CLOSES PORT SALALAH FOR 48 HOURS
Classified By: Ambassador Richard L. Baltimore III.
Reason: 1.4 (b).
Â¶1. (C) Three tons of oil spilled into the port of Salalah
January 18 after a routine bunkering operation went awry.
The immediate cause of the accident appears to be human error
aboard the "Maersk Greenwich." Based on preliminary
information regarding the actions taken by Port Salalah and
the Ministry of Regional Municipalities, Environment and
Water Resources (MRMEWR), it appears the contaminated vessel
was allowed to move away from its position within the
protection of the jetty and into the open water of the
anchorage area, allowing oil to spread onto a nearby beach.
The port is currently 75 percent operational with 3 berths up
and running. Available resources appeared to have been
limited as local fishing dinghies were asked to assist while
a cleaning crew from the United Arab Emirates made its way to
the scene. END SUMMARY.
Â¶2. (SBU) Initial reports of an oil spill that occurred at
Port Salalah January 17 suggest that after an engineer
stepped away from the control room aboard the "Maersk
Greenwich," three tons of fuel oil spilled into the port as
the vessel's fifth tank reached full capacity during a
routine bunkering operation. The engineer has since been
released from employment with Maersk.
Â¶3. (SBU) According to port officials, the ship was
immediately detained and prevented from leaving while
protective booms were put up around the port to contain the
spread of oil from the ship's deck and hull. This was
immediately followed by a full closure (for 48 hours) of the
port, causing some ships to be delayed in the anchorage area
just outside the jetty or be diverted to other ports in
Â¶4. (U) A task force was set up by Sulaiman bin Mohammed
al-Busaidi, Superintendent General of Pollution Control at
the MRMEWR. The coalition brought together the capabilities
of several government agencies, including the Ministry of
Environment, the Ministry of Transport and Communications,
the Royal Oman Police Coast Guard, and Salalah Port Services.
Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) contributed 50 boxes of
absorbent material by the end of the second night. In
addition, international assistance was requested from the
Spill Response Company in the UAE in order to contain the
spill and expedite remediation. The company crew arrived
January 20, with their equipment following via road a few
hours later. In the meantime, several reports suggest that
local fisherman were enlisted to aid cleanup efforts.
QUESTIONS ABOUT RESPONSE
Â¶5. (C) According to one official at Salalah Port Services
(SPS), an Omani joint venture with Danish-owned A.P.
Moller-Maersk Group responsible for managing Port Salalah,
the cleanup proved to be a "perfect scenario in which the
port, ministries and private sector worked flawlessly."
Officials from an agent representing one of the affected
ships disagreed with this assessment, however, saying that
the port mistakenly let the contaminated ship move from its
position within the jetty into the outlying anchoring area in
open water, thereby spreading the spill and causing
contamination of a nearby beach. An official from the MRMEWR
says that in order to clean the affected area with dispersant
(not recommended for use in depths less than 25 meters), the
contaminated ship had to be moved. It was during the ship's
movement that churning caused additional oil hidden in the
jetty to appear.
Â¶6. (SBU) The "Maersk Greenwich" was permitted by the MRMEWR
on January 18 to leave port upon receipt of a guarantee of
payment (estimated by one source to be approximately USD
400,000) for all clean-up costs by its acting agent in Oman.
Other vessels contaminated by the spill were cleaned in port
before departure. (Note: Vessels contaminated with oil face
stiff penalties and can even be barred from entering other
ports. END NOTE.)
OPEN FOR BUSINESS
Â¶7. (SBU) As of January 26, three of Salalah's four berths
are open for business and the port is operating at almost
full-volume capacity. A representative of Port Salalah said
that while business was lost during the closure, they expect
the spill to have no material bearing on their earnings this
Â¶8. (C) While officials at the Port of Salalah contend that
the spill was handled within standard operating procedures
and that no oil escaped from the immediate port, other
officials argue that poor decisions taken during the event
illustrate the need for improvements if Port Salalah seeks to
attract more business from bunkering services. As one
official summarized, "Reaction time was slow and resources