Israel Sends Team to Greece to Inspect Ship Suspected of Causing Massive Oil Spill

The oil spill has polluted beaches covering some 40 percent of Israel’s Mediterranean coast

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Volunteers cleaning up tar from a beach in Tel Aviv, last week.
Volunteers cleaning up tar from a beach in Tel Aviv, last week.Credit: Moti Milrod

Israel has sent a team to inspect a ship docked in Greece it suspects may be responsible for the major oil spill that polluted Israel’s Mediterranean coast, the Environmental Protection Ministry said on Saturday.

The brief statement didn’t name the suspected ship or provide any further details from the investigation, which the ministry said was still ongoing.

A Greek Coast Guard official who declined to be named told Reuters Athens had not received any official request from Israel to inspect a Greek ship. Yet, Israel's Environmental Protection Ministry said that they had worked in full cooperation with the Greek Foreign MInistry as required, and not directly with the team on board the ship in question. 

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said Wednesday that the oil pollution was caused by a single ship. The director of the ministry’s Marine and Coastal Environmental Division, Rani Amir, said that the source is one of several suspected ships, but that the ministry has excluded five ships that had initially come under suspicion.

On Wednesday, the Health Ministry announced a ban on the sale of fish and other marine life caught off the coast until further notice.

One of the obstacles to the investigation, Gamliel said, has been that Israel does not have authority to stop ships in the open sea. Amir added that the ministry had asked for a gag order in the case due to concern that the operator of the polluting ship would seek to obstruct the investigation.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said samples they collected from several beaches all have been found to be crude oil. 

Prof. Alon Amrani of the university's Institute of Earth Sciences said that according to the team's findings, which were also shared with the Environmental Protection Ministry, the pollution most probably couldn't have been caused by ship fuel.

Animals have been found covered with tar, including a few birds and nine sea turtles. Four of the turtles died, while the others were taken to the National Sea Turtle Rescue Center at Mikhmoret between Tel Aviv and Haifa. There they were fed in an attempt to increase their metabolism and dilute the oil in their bodies.

On Tuesday, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority reported that most of the beaches along the coast have been cleared of large pieces of tar, but that small fragments of tar are more difficult to remove. The vast majority of tar and other debris that has been removed from the beaches has been done by volunteers.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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