The emir of Kuwait formally doused the flames of his country’s last burning oil well Wednesday in a ceremony marking the taming of the world’s worst oil field disaster.
To the sound of bagpipes, tambourines and shrill ululations, Sheik Jabbar al Ahmed al Sabah walked on a red carpet leading to a blue podium, where he pushed a lever that automatically shut off a valve, stopping the flow of oil to the Burgan 118 well.
“Our national resources are safe now . . . and this waste is stopped forever,” Oil Minister Hamoud Rogba declared.
The ceremony was the highlight of a special two-day public holiday celebrating the end to the most visible legacy of Iraq’s seven-month-long occupation.
The symbolic “last” fire at Burgan, 27 miles south of Kuwait city, had been brought under control last week but was reignited for the occasion.
Before the ceremony, bulldozers cleared the black, oily desert and covered a 200-square-yard area with clean sand. White tents were erected and about 100 Persian carpets unrolled. Yellow flowers were distributed in remembrance of the 2,000 Kuwaitis the emirate says are still held as prisoners of war in Iraq.
Attending Wednesday’s ceremony were the oil ministers of Syria, Egypt and the Gulf Cooperation Council, grouping Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.
Also on hand was U.S. Ambassador Edward Gnehm Jr., who described the occasion as “extremely historic and one that makes us all happy . . . uplifts our souls.”
Oil Minister Rogba told reporters after the ceremony that the effort to cap 732 oil wells set on fire by retreating Iraqi troops during the Gulf War cost $1.5 billion. However, he said that because of the firefighters’ speedy work, the initial projection of $43 billion in oil losses had been reduced by $12 billion.
He said Kuwait had lost about 3% of its oil reserves in the fires.