The rapid growth of economic development in Egypt over the last few decades has led to numerous offshore projects, expanding maritime facilities and a vast spread of coastal tourist developments. However, adequate capacity building of existing national oil spill response facilities did not complement such growth. This has resulted in an imbalance between the degree of environmental exposure and level of preparedness to respond to potential oil and chemical spills that may occur along these highly sensitive coastal areas and to the marine environment of Egypt. Both the Red Sea and Mediterranean coasts of Egypt support thriving ecosystems and a substantial tourist industry centered around golden beaches, crystalline waters, and a plethora of plant and animal species that exist nowhere else on earth. At the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula Ras Mohammad National Park alone shelters over 130 species of coral and 116 species of fish. Only a few kilometers away, the Gulf of Suez is one of the worlds busiest industrial shipping routes. More than 117 million tons of oil pass through Egyptian waters each year and cross Egypt's main land through the SUMED pipeline from Ain Sukhna terminal (at the head of the Gulf of Suez) to Sidi Krir terminal on the Mediterranean. Another 28 to 30 million tons of oil go through the Suez Canal directly and there is a 15000-ship movement every year in Egypt.
The Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) has updated a National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP), prepared in 1986 by the petroleum sector, in 1998. The NOSCP is the national framework for action in the event of an oil pollution incident. Updating, the NOSCP was just the beginning and not the end of the road. Challenges to take forward necessary action at all response levels to ensure efficiency of application of the NOSCP are enormous. Over the last few years concerned parties and stakeholders conducted several investigations and assessment to identify critical areas of concern and high exposure. Many assessment reports have identified gaps and addressed required measures needed to enhance bridging those gaps and restore the required balance between exposure and preparedness to recover from this situation.
This paper considers the present status of the imbalance between environmental exposure and oil spill response preparedness along Egyptian coastline, describes current status of the NOSCP and the recovery measures taken to improve the situation and ensure credible response to potential major spills.