Europe ash cloud dents Gulf Arab luxury food supply

Wed Apr 21, 2010 10:19am EDT
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By Tamara Walid and Amena Bakr

DUBAI (Reuters Life!) - A Gulf Arab airline ditched a massive cargo of fresh fish and the desert region's supermarkets are fretting over fruit and vegetable imports trapped in a backlog of flights created by Europe's ash cloud.

As European air space reopens to flights that were closed by the cloud of volcanic ash which drifted over from Iceland, retailers and consumers in Gulf Arab countries are literally taking stock as airlines scramble to shift a backlog of cargo and passengers that could take days or weeks to clear.

"The situation is really bad," said Gapesh Gerash, manager at Dubai-based Barakat Vegetables and Fruits, which imports 2,000 kg (4,409 lb) in air freight from Europe four times a week.

The ash cloud highlights the heavy dependence on food imports from abroad for the Gulf's wealthy nationals and the foreign expatriates seeking a taste of home, from imported Dutch tomatoes to French cheeses and Belgian chocolates.

Gulf supermarkets do rely in large part on Africa and Asia, but those imports cannot entirely make up for emerging shortages in European food supplies, especially for consumers seeking Western goods.

"We import the majority of our food from Europe, and right now the only option is some charter flights, but they are charging double the normal rate," Gerash said.

Gulf Arab airlines could lose $15 million a day over European cargo and passenger flight disruptions, said Abdul Wahab Teffaha, head of the Arab Air Carriers Organization.

"The economic value is going to be astronomical," he said.   Continued...

<p>A shop vendor stacks fruits in a Dubai vegetable market in preparation for the fasting month of Ramadan October 14, 2004. REUTERS/Anwar Mirza</p>