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Tsavliris calls for enhancement of marine environment protection in UAE

Tsavliris calls for enhancement of marine environment protection in UAE
A Greek salvage specialist is calling for improved protection of the marine ecosystem in the Arabian Gulf through the creation of the UAE Marine Environment Protection Agency (UAEMEPA).

George Tsavliris, chairman of the International Marine Environment Protection Association (Intermepa), and principal of Tsavliris Salvage Group, has masterminded the creation of a raft of marine protection agencies around the world.

Tsavliris, who has through his salvage work seen at first hand the consequences of marine pollution, but whose voice was a lonely siren call for a costs-obsessed Mare Forum audience in Abu Dhabi last month, is calling on Dubai’s “dynamic maritime community” to spearhead the initiative.

“It is of vital importance to elevate and encourage all those involved in the shipping industry with educational and other public awareness programmes which will serve the objective of protecting the marine environment,” Tsavliris told Seatrade Maritime News in an exclusive interview.

With one-third of the world’s crude- and product-tanker traffic operating daily in the Arabian Gulf, the consequences of an oil or similar spill for the marine environment are too awful to contemplate. He said Lloyd’s List Intelligence showed around 60 casualties were identified within the Arabian Gulf last year.

No major pollution incidents were reported. Asked if there had been any recent “near misses” of late in the Gulf, he said: “This is difficult to answer as we actually rarely find out about the near misses in the shipping industry. We are not aware of any significant near misses in the area of the Arabian Gulf.”

Although shipping has often been criticised as a major cause of pollution, environmental concerns, increasing regulation and technological progress have added to a very challenging business climate.

“The shipping industry in general is showing growing sensitivity to the environmental question, [but] it needs to become more proactive in combating pollution and the industry’s ecological impact,” he said.

Umbrella-organisation Intermepa, this year celebrating its 10th anniversary, helps coordinate the global effort to prevent marine pollution.

It was founded in Greece by the four national MEPAs, Greece, Cyprus, Australia and Turkey. Since then, three more members, North America, Uruguay and Ukraine, have joined. HELMEPA, representing Greece, was first to be founded, in 1982.

“Intermepa and all MEPAs enjoy the support of international organisations such as the IMO, BIMCO, UNEP, USCG and others, in the efforts to raise the environmental [awareness] of shipping,” he said.

The failure of the Paris Summit to make explicit reference to the IMO’s responsibility for reducing CO2 emissions in shipping gives rise to fears that the issue will not be properly dealt with.

“The [recent] Paris Agreement now leaves it unclear which bodies have overall responsibility to reduce emissions from the shipping sector,” he said. “Unilateral or regional regulation would be disastrous for shipping and disastrous for global CO2 reduction.”

Low oil prices had in effect eroded the financial viability of gas at a time when its environmentally friendlier footprint would have promoted cleaner air and enhanced energy security, he said.

“The current market conditions make [it] even more difficult to introduce new environmental regulation until we return to higher oil prices.”

None of the UAE’s seven emirates is without major stretches of coastline. In the past two decades, the UAE Ministry of Environment and Water has declared marine protected areas in five emirates.

"The UAE's marine and coastal environment experiences several pressures caused by many years of development, expansion and over-exploitation of natural coastal and marine resources," its 2015 State of the Environment Report said.

"[Given] the strategic geographical location of the UAE, the increasing traffic, the size of ships and the ever expanding volume of trade, it is of vital importance to have contingency plans in place in order to maximise the protection of the marine environment in the area," Tsavliris said.