Israel Says It Has 'Caught' the Ship Responsible for Country's Worst Oil Disaster

Zafrir Rinat
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The oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea during a cleanup operation at Sharon Beach Nature Reserve in Israel, last month
The oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea during a cleanup operation at Sharon Beach Nature Reserve in Israel, last monthCredit: Ariel Schalit,AP
Zafrir Rinat

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said on Wednesday that Israel caught the ship behind the worst oil spill in Israel's history in mid-February.

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Disclosing no further details as to the ship's location, ownership or how it was identified, Gamliel said Israel's "long arm will reach" all those who "harmed our nature, beaches and coasts." 

An estimated 1,000 tons of black tar from the leak washed up on over 90 percent of the country's 195 kilometer (120 mile) coastline. The government is awaiting the results of water quality testing before potentially reopening some beaches, which remain closed along the coast. 

Water samples from various points along the coast were taken for analysis soon after the oil began washing up. 

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.

Cleanup of a Haifa beach following the unreported oil spill that polluted the coast last month.Credit: Rami Shllush

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.

On Sunday the Environmental Protection Ministry said that the Minerva Helen, a Greek tanker, had been cleared of suspicion for the oil spill, 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.

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