From: Diana Elias, Associated Press
Published October 6, 2004 12:00 AM

Hundreds of Sunken Vessels Block Access to Iraq's Seaports, Pollute Waters

KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait — The routes into Iraq's two deep water ports are lined with more than 300 sunken ships, blocking the channel and polluting the waters, the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) said Tuesday.


It will cost US$34 million to remove the wrecks — which range from freighters and tankers to tugs and wooden dhows — and restore the channels leading to Umm Qasr and al-Zubair to their original depths, according to a statement from the agency.


"Until most of these vessels are removed, Iraq will not be able to rehabilitate the Persian Gulf seaports that once handled the bulk of its commerce," the statement quoted U.N. experts as saying. Umm Qasr and al-Zubair are Iraq's only deep water ports.


The ships sank during the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war, the 1991 Gulf War, and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq last year. Some of their cargo, including munitions, pesticides, and refined oil products, is already leaking into the Gulf and spreading with very strong currents.


The pollutants may also pose hazards to Kuwait, which has almost no ground fresh water and depends largely on desalinating water from the Gulf.


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The UNDP said that restoring port access for deep-draught ships would bring in revenues to Iraq that would pay for the channel-clearing in less than a year.


It also said the United Nations estimates that Iraq is spending an extra $190 million a year to import goods overland that could be imported "much more cheaply and efficiently" by sea.


The two ports "have the potential to become major cargo and container-handling facilities and are vital for receiving reconstruction supplies," the UNDP said. As they are now, they are "a major obstacle to Iraq's economic recovery."


Umm Qasr and al-Zubair are commercial ports; oil is loaded at the ports of Basra and Khor al-Amya.


UNDP experts were meeting in Kuwait on Tuesday and Wednesday to share their findings with potential donors, according to Paul Clifford, a technical adviser for the agency.


The UNDP has already been dredging and removing wrecks from the channels, largely funded by the Japanese government.


Source: Associated Press


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