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EGYPT: Fuel spill fouls Nile River, threatening drinking water

September 14, 2010 |  6:39 am

RA spill of around 100 tons of diesel into the Nile River has forced Egyptian authorities to shut down four water purification stations as a precaution to prevent contamination.

The spill resulted from the partial sinking of a barge owned by the state's Nile Co. for River Transportation that was docking in the city of Aswan, 650 miles south of Cairo, because of low water levels Saturday. It further degrades an Nile River basin already damaged by overuse, pollution and drought.

"All measures are being taken to clean up the leakage and ensure that drinking water supplies are safe," Aswan's governor, Mustafa Sayed, was quoted as saying by Egypt's official news agency MENA. "Sites along the Nile that feed river water to purification stations have been blocked off as a precautionary measure to prevent polluted water from entering filters."

The vessel's captain, who was interrogated right after the incident, blamed low water levels as the main reason for the leakage.

Egyptian prosecutors have ordered the formation of an investigative committee, with the participation of officials from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Environment, to find reasons for the leak.

In addition to Aswan, the governorates of Luxor and Qena, both downriver from Aswan, have announced states of emergency after the spill reached Luxor on Sunday evening. However, navigation in the river remained open.

Officials insisted that the 70-yard-wide and 1.2-mile-long fuel slick is shrinking and is not expected to affect water supply stations.

"The small slick fragmented as it passed through an area of dense grass," Luxor Gov. Samir Farag said, adding that samples of water will be tested regularly to ensure its safety.

Provincial official Mohamed Mustafa assured that initial tests carried out after water supplies feeding purification stations have been shut off proved that drinking water in the region of Aswan was not contaminated.

"It is not a big spill. There are small spots of oil and considering the size of the Nile, it will not affect the river environment," Mustafa said.

Environmental expert professor Mohamed Fouad echoed Mustafa's quotes, saying that diesel takes some time before it evaporates without leaving any negative effects behind.

"The best and easiest way of dealing with a situation like this would be shutting off purification stations' tanks for two or three days at most," Fouad said.

The Nile River is Egypt's main source of drinking and fresh water.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: A view of Nile waters in Aswan. Credit: Reuters

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