Crude Oil Leak in Gulf of Aqaba Threatens Eilat's Beaches, Marine Wildlife

Environmental Protection Ministry officials are following the events and its possible ramification on the gulf and particularly on the gulf's coral reef.

Rob Atherton

Two-hundred tons of crude oil leaked into the Gulf of Aqaba from Jordan's Aqaba port on Tuesday, raising fears in Israel of possible contamination on Eilat's beaches and harm to its coral reef.

Initial reports suggested that the oil spill was drifting southward toward the beaches of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, but due to the proximity of the spill, at least some of the oil is expected to reach Israeli beaches.

Israel's Ministry of Environmental Protection began preparations to aid in cleanup and containment, but has yet to receive a request for assistance from Jordan where officials said they were responding to the incident themselves.

The two countries have held joint exercises in the past to deal with situations of this type, the last one being held less than one year ago.

According to protocol, the response to the environmental incident is to include initial attempts to remove the oil from the water via suction tubes and additionally to block the oil from drifting further out to sea.

Israeli officials said they were unaware of the details or cause of the spill, but reports seemed to suggest that the leak had been the result of a burst pipe and not from a container. The leak from the pipe was said to have been stopped.

Aqaba is the only port through which Jordan can receive oil via sea shipments, but containers are also unloaded in Israel just across the gulf. During the end of the 1960s and into the 1970s, there were occassional incidents of oil leaks in the area, but these have largely ceased since