Israeli Spy Firm Black Cube Links Major Oil Spill Ship to Syrian Family

Zafrir Rinat
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The Emerald, seen in the photo with its previous name
The Emerald, seen in the photo with its previous nameCredit: Igor Torgachkin
Zafrir Rinat

The tanker blamed for a major oil spill polluting the Mediterranean coastline is owned by a Syrian family, the Environmental Protection Ministry said on Sunday, based on information from Israeli private intelligence firm Black Cube.

Through a series of corporate ownership ties, the ship is ultimately owned by a company headquartered in Greece and owned by a Syrian family, the ministry said, but it did not specify the nature of the cooperation between itself and the controversial company.

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The information was obtained through what was described as “an independent investigation” by Black Cube into the ownership of the ship, Emerald Marine Ltd., a company registered in the Marshall Islands. 

The ministry did not hire Black Cube to obtain the information. The nature of the involvement of the firm, which advertises itself as employing former agents from the Mossad, Shin Bet and Military Intelligence and making use of their methods, has not yet been made clear.

The ministry, however, said that, in the event the Black Cube’s information proves relevant to the investigation of the spill and to legal action against the owners of the ship and its insurer, the ministry would make use of it.

The private intelligence firm has been embroilled in several scandals in the past decade, ranging from a 2017 report by The New Yorker that Black Cube helped Harvey Weinstein to track women who made allegations against him, to allegations by the Israeli television show "Uvda" that the firm spied on then-Finance Minister Yair Lapid.

Black Cube said that company is in turn owned by Oryx Shipping of Piraeus, Greece, which is owned by the Syrian Malah family. Black Cube found that the family owns a number of shell companies registered in the Marshall Islands, Panama and Britain, all of which are listed at the same corporate address in Piraeus, the ministry said. Black Cube said that Oryx Shipping’s fleet of ships is insured by Islamic P&I Club, which the Environment Ministry said is among the few entities that also insure Iranian ships.

At a press conference at the beginning of March, Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said that Israel intended to identify the owners of the Emerald and to sue for the environmental damage Israel’s Mediterranean coast. The leak resulted in 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 in February.

Gamliel also accused Iran of "eco-terrorism" and claimed that the pollution was intentional at the press conference, although other sources at the ministry said that it was highly unlikely that the spill was a deliberate act of terrorism. At the time, Israeli defense officials also said that they were unaware of any Iranian act to pollute Israel’s coast through an oil spill. At the news conference, investigators into the spill said that it may have resulted from a technical mishap on a ship.

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