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Bahrain on red alert after tanker fire

Manama, March 20, 2012

Bahrain remained on red alert following a chemical tanker explosion near the Saudi coastline. However, Qatari authorities said last night (March 19) that the fire which broke out aboard the MV Stolt Valor was put out by 5.30pm.

The tanker was moved to a safe place north, off the coasts of Bahrain and Qatar, they added.

No leak had been detected. Authorities will now assess the condition of the vessel and its cargo.

Earlier, officials said Bahrain was not in immediate danger and steps had been taken to deal with any eventuality.

All concerned bodies have been put on high alert and key facilities placed under 24-hour surveillance, said Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife director-general Dr Adel Al Zayani.

Three large water desalination plants in Bahrain were not yet at risk, he said.

A specialist company that deals with oil spills has also been put on standby following Thursday's explosion, in which a Filipino crew member died.

Twenty-four other seafarers, all from the Philippines, were rescued by the US Navy and handed over to Philippine Embassy officials in Bahrain.

The Liberian-registered tanker, which was on its way to Bahrain from Saudi's Al Jubail port, was carrying about 12,700 metric tonnes of a volatile flammable liquid chemical and petrol additive.

"We have activated our disaster control management systems and are keeping a close watch on the situation," Dr Al Zayani said during a Press conference at the Oil Spill Command Centre, Sitra.

Dr Al Zayani said while the vessel had been around 66 miles north of the Muharraq coast on Sunday, it was now only 30 miles away and another explosion was heard on board yesterday. "Though it is not moving towards Bahrain, it is moving past our territorial waters," he added.

The Dutch-owned tanker is being salvaged by Netherlands-based Smit Salvage, which has been using Bahrain as a base to take equipment and other material to fight the fire and salvage the vessel.

"The danger is not as much from the chemicals on board but the 18 tonnes of lube and 434 tonnes of diesel oil that it is carrying in its tanks," Dr Al Zayani added.

"If the ship were to go down, this would leak into the ocean and cause us major problems, including a threat to the desalination plants," he said. "This is what we are worried about."

Dr Al Zayani said the Coastguard and other authorities were keeping a vigil on the tanker's movements at all times. "Helicopters and boats have been pressed into service to do so," he said.

"We now believe most of the chemical has burned down already so that is why all efforts are being made to put the fire out as soon as possible and salvage the ship to prevent it from going down."

Dr Al Zayani said officials from the Electricity and Water Authority, commission and Coastguard were at the command centre, along with representatives from Alba and GPIC, which were also threatened by the incident.

"However, the private companies are managing their own response, while we concentrate on taking steps to prevent any incident at the Hidd, Sitra and Al Dur water desalination plants," he said.

Dr Al Zayani said water samples taken from Bahrain's waters had indicated no threat. "We will, however, continue to monitor the situation," he said.

The Bahrain-based Marine Emergency Mutual Aid Centre (Memac) earlier informed the Regional Organisation for the Protection of Marine Environment about the explosion, which in turn activated contingency plans to prevent a marine disaster.

Memac director Captain Abdul Moniem Al Janahi said experts had estimated the fire will continue for several days despite attempts by a number of tugboats to put it out. – TradeArabia News Service




Tags: Bahrain | Qatar | Saudi | Coastline | Marine resources | Tanker fire | Stolt Valor |

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