Abu Dhabi’s first landmark tower
Back in the mid-1960s, it would have been hard to miss this structure in Abu Dhabi, towering more than 90 metres over the town.
It is a Decca Navigator System mast, part of a vital network of communications for ships navigating through the Arabian Gulf, which was becoming increasingly congested with oil tankers.
Without going too far into the technical details of the operating system, the mast was part of a chain that enabled users to determine their position by receiving continuous low-frequency signals from several fixed positions.
At the centre of each system was a master station surrounded by three “slaves” that formed an equilateral triangle. Das Island was the master station. Each slave station was code-named red, green and purple. Abu Dhabi was purple, with Doha red and Lavan Island off the coast of Iran, green.
An account survives of that time – unfortunately uncredited – by a young British engineer. In 1966, the station, he recalled, was “an idyllic location on the beach, only a few yards from high-water mark, along what would become the Corniche, between the Roman Catholic church and the future Hilton hotel”.
The mast in this photograph survived until 1973, when the station was relocated. The UAE system was discontinued in 1999 to be replaced by GPS, although some Decca stations continued to operate until 2001.
The site of the mast is approximately near the site of what is now the Nation Towers, whose skybridge is, appropriately, the highest in the world. Time Frame is a series that opens a window into the nation’s past. Readers are invited to make contributions to firstname.lastname@example.org