Egypt and Saudi plan oil spill exercise

Egypt and Saudi state oil giant Aramco are planning to launch an oil spill containment exercise in an Alexandria port in November, according to reports.

The containment exercise comes after UK supermajor BP had a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on 20 April.

The drill aims to test response to a big shipping spill in the Mediterranean Sea, Mahmoud Ismail, the head of the environmental disasters and crisis management at the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), told Reuters.

"We want to make sure that we have all the right equipment and people in place in the case of a disastrous spill, like the one BP had in the US," said Ismail.

Egypt's Petro Environmental Services Company (PESCO) and Aramco would launching the spill containment exercise in the Sidi Kerir area, around 30 kilometres west of Alexandria, he said.

Sidi Kerir is a Mediterranean oil terminal at the end of the Suez-Mediterranean (Sumed) twin pipelines, which can pump up to 3.1 mn bpd of crude from the Red Sea coast to the terminal.

The pipeline is used by Middle East crude exporters including Saudi Arabia to by-pass the shipping chokepoint of the Suez Canal.

The drill would test the response to the worst kind of spill, called a tier three event that would require a full collaborative international response, Ismail added.

"Tier three basically means that both companies and national forces will be tested in how to deal with a disaster," he said.

Egypt's navy and ministry of defence and a number of state environmental agencies also plan to take part, said Ismail.

Other sponsors of the drill included BP, Shell, Aramco's shipping subsidiary Vela, and Egypt's Arab Petroleum Pipeline Company (SUMED), said Richard Byrnes, manager for environmental services at PESCO.

"Although this exercise was scheduled to take place early on, after the BP spill it just seemed more important and we have had more interest from oil companies in the Gulf to take part," said Byrnes.

The cost of the exercise is estimated to around $1 million, Byrnes added.

In June, officials in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Hurghada discovered an oil spill that had polluted parts of a 20-kilometre stretch of coastline including several tourist locations.

"The spill in Hurghada was small and was contained quite quickly, but the danger is if an accident like this happens in the Mediterranean then it would spread very quickly and would be harder to contain," said Byrnes.

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