Potential Oil Spill Identified Off Israeli Coast, but Isn't Expected to Reach the Country

Concerns remain as hundreds of volunteers still attempt to clean up the tar on the country's beaches after a massive oil spill

Zafrir Rinat
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Volunteers cleaning Israel's beaches, yesterday.
Volunteers cleaning Israel's beaches, yesterday.Credit: Rami Shllush
Zafrir Rinat

A potential new oil spill was identified about 150 kilometers (about 93 miles) from Israel's coast on Friday, as the country already struggles with tons of tar reaching its beaches in the worst environmental pollution event in decades.

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However, on Saturday, authorities said they don't expect it to make it near Israeli shores.

The first reports were based on information obtained by investigative reporter Amir Shuan, who works for Channel 13's "HaTzinor" television program, and were confirmed by Dr. Elyakim Ben Hakoun, a seamanship and environmental researcher from the Technion.

The Environmental Protection Ministry is investigating the matter. "If this is an oil spill, the ministry will act according to the national plan to respond to sea pollution," a statement said on Friday.

This week, the Israeli public was asked by authorities to stay away from beaches in a wide swath of the country, after tar washing marred 170 kilometers (106 miles), or 40 percent, of Israel’s coastline, affecting 16 communities.

The pollution reached all of Israel's shores, from Rosh Hanikra in the north to Zikim in the south. Air patrols dispatched last week were able to pinpoint oil slicks between 200 to 500 meters from the coast, moving towards the mainland in the north of the country, around the port city of Haifa. On Friday, the ministry said that efforts to clear the tar from Israel's beaches are continuing.

According to Environmental Protection Ministry estimates, the source of the tar is a vessel that sailed outside of Israel's territorial waters and dumped tons of crude oil into the sea. Hundreds of civilians and soldiers have joined efforts to remove the tar over the last week, but according to Israel's Nature and Parks Authority, the clean-up will take years.

Volunteers cleaning Israel's beaches, yesterday.Credit: Rami Shllush

The ministry has ruled five out of a number of ships suspected of being the source of the spill, the director of the National Unit for the Protection of the Marine Environment, Rani Amir, said at a press conference. 

Rami Peleg, who is in charge of the investigation in the unit, added that the ministry has discovered the original location of the spill, but not the perpetrator. "We're in the stage of collecting evidence," he said.

According to Amir, samples have been collected from the beaches, and the ministry is employing a lab in Israel to identify the material, which is highly likely to be heavy oil.

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