An oil spill from an Egyptian rig has polluted several tourist sites along a large stretch of coastline along the Red Sea.
The leak, which Egyptian government spokesman Magdy Rady described as “limited,” was caused by a spill from an offshore platform in Jebel al-Zayt, north of the Red Sea resort town of Hurghada.
The government managed to keep the news of the oil spill quiet internally for days, an extraordinary feat that might have been related to the fact that Hurghada is one of the country's top tourist destinations. The area, a vital source of income for Egypt, was once a major diving site with extensive coral reefs. However, extensive development has caused damage to the area.
Oil company officials in the port city of Suez spoke with the Associated Press about the spill on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with media.
There was also no mention of the leak for days in any Israeli news media, which might otherwise have put off Israeli tourists who typically travel to Red Sea resorts for quick vacations.
Rady told the state-run Middle East News Agency that the spill was discovered last week and had quickly been mostly contained. However, Ahmed el-Droubi, a biologist with the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA), flatly accused the government of a cover-up this week.
“Just today I received news that the oil had started leaking again this afternoon after it had stopped Thursday,” he told an Associated Press reporter on Tuesday. The HEPCA, founded by divers in 1992, was one of the first groups to raise the alarm about the spill.
“The northern islands protected area is very heavily impacted,” el-Droubi added. “This area is very important because it is the last pristine spot, there is a lot of sea life there that will be harmed... there are dead birds and dead sea turtles scattered across the island, covered in oil.”
Approximately 100 miles (160 kilometers) of coastline were polluted, including a number of tourist beach sites.
Meanwhile, Egyptian Environmental Crisis Department head Mahmoud Ismail said that most of the beaches would be cleaned up in a few days. He admitted that the situation on the islands was worse, however.
“The hardest work will be cleaning up the coral and Tawila Island,” he said, adding that he had already had complaints from some of the local hotels.