Israel: Greek Tanker Ruled Out as Source of Massive Oil Spill

The Environment Ministry cleared the Miinerva Helen of blame for the worst oil spill in the country’s history following a ‘professional and comprehensive inspection’

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The Minerva Helen docked in Greece.
The Minerva Helen docked in Greece.Credit: Environmental Protection Ministry

The Minerva Helen, a Greek tanker, has been cleared of suspicion for the oil spill that polluted large stretches of Israel’s Mediterranean coastline in mid-February, the Environmental Protection Ministry said on Sunday following an inspection of the ship.

On Saturday, a team of Israeli investigators from the ministry’s marine environment protection division examined the tanker, which is anchored at the port of Piraeus.

The ministry said that, following a “meticulous, professional and comprehensive” investigation carried out in cooperation with the authorities in Greece and without advance notice to the ship’s operators, it was ruled out the ship as the source of the spill.

The tar cleanup on Haifa's Shikmona beach last week.Credit: Rami Shllush

Tar from the leak washed up on more than 170 kilometers (106 miles) of Israel’s beaches, affecting 40 percent of the country’s coastline.

When the pollution surfaced, the ministry identified roughly 10 ships in the region as possible culprits. Subsequently the names of dozens of other ships were added to the list. The list of suspected ships was again narrowed to about 10, with assistance from foreign officials.   

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel tweeted that Israel would continue to pursue the source of the pollution and bring the polluters to justice.

Tar being removed from the Givat Ha'aliyah beach in Jaffa in February.Credit: Moti Milrod

“We are committed to make every effort to locate the ship responsible for the pollution of Israel’s beaches. We have a moral duty to the public [and to] the wildlife and nature that was harmed by the pollution," she wrote on Twitter.

"This pollution has an address. We will not ignore an environmental crime and we will use every means to find the perpetrators,” Gamliel added.

On Tuesday, an Israeli court partially lifted a gag order on the investigation.

Although the Minerva Helen had been mentioned by a number of Israeli media outlets as the suspected source of the massive spill, the ship’s operator, the Minerva Marine Company, told Haaretz that it denied any responsibility.

Between February 4 through February 11, the ship was off Port Said in Egypt, without any cargo on board, awaiting further orders and was not involved in any activity that could have been linked to the oil spill, according to the company.

After the pollution was first spotted on February 17, the Environmental Protection Ministry said the most likely source of the oil was an unreported spill of perhaps dozens of tons of oil from a tanker. The ministry has not yet disclosed the type of oil involved, but researchers from Hebrew University’s Hermann Institute of Earth Sciences who collected samples of the tar said that they believe it is from crude oil.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority said last week that most of the country’s Mediterranean beaches have been cleared of large pieces of tar, but that tiny fragments of tar were more difficult to remove. In addition to the tar, other debris including plastic, tree limbs and shells are being removed. After the debris is analyzed, a final decision will be made regarding necessary further steps, a cleanup that could take years, the authority said.

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