YEMEN: Red Sea volcano still active, say specialists
A map of Yemen and the surrounding region highlighting Jabal al-Tair in the Red Sea
sanaa, 3 October 2007 (IRIN) - The head of the Ministry of Oil’s Geological Survey Authority (GSA), Ismael al-Janad, told IRIN on 2 October that the volcano which erupted on the tiny island of Jabal al-Tair in the Red Sea on 30 September was still active. "It will take time to calm down," he said.
Yemeni geologists linked the volcano to seismic activity which coincided with the eruption. The Earthquake Observation Centre said it had recorded tremors in the Red Sea from 22 September until the volcano’s eruption. They measured 2.0-3.6 degrees on the Richter scale, with five of the larger ones recorded on 30 September.
Jabal al-Tair (Bird Mountain) island is about 3km long, covers an area of 3.9sqkm, and its highest peak is 1,200 metres. It lies about 100km off the nearest Yemeni coast and, according to geologists, is in a volcanically active part of the Red Sea.
There have been several previous eruptions of the volcano, including a possible one in 1332, and others in the 18th and 19th centuries. The last time the island witnessed a strong volcanic eruption was in 1883. Naval base destroyed
The island is unpopulated but for a small Yemeni naval base which monitors nearby shipping lanes. Abdul-Jalil al-Salahi, another official at the GSA, told IRIN the volcano destroyed all the buildings of the naval base, which had to be evacuated as the eruption sent part of the island collapsing into the sea and covered the rest with lava.
The authorities in al-Hodeidah, the nearest town on the mainland, have warned fishermen not to approach the island. Fishermen’s livelihoods are not affected.
Four of the nine people reported missing in the eruption died, Yemeni officials said on 2 October. They said one survivor was found. Rescue teams evacuated 47 people from the naval base and sent them to the nearest military hospital on the mainland, in the province of al-Hodeidah, according to Yemeni naval rescue teams.
According to al-Salahi, Yemeni coastguards requested the assistance of a Canadian warship, HMCS Toronto, which was part of a NATO fleet on its way to the Suez Canal when the eruption began. “The Canadians really contributed to the rescue operations,” he said.
Ken Allen, a spokesman for the Canadian navy, said the eruption was “catastrophic”, adding that the island was aglow with lava and magma which poured down into the sea.