Israel Lifts State of Emergency on Its Mediterranean Coast Month After Oil Spill

About 80 percent of Israel's public beaches along the coast are now considered clean, ministry says, as investigation continues

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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Lumps of tar on a beach in Israel, last month.
Lumps of tar on a beach in Israel, last month.Credit: Rami Shllush
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The Environmental Protection Ministry ended on Wednesday the state of emergency that it had declared following last month’s pollution of much of Israel’s Mediterranean coastline from an oil spill.

The spill littered large stretches of beach with tar, from Rosh Hanikra in the north to Zikim near the Gaza Strip.

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Local authorities are now responsible for handling remaining damages from the oil spill, the ministry said. When the pollution was discovered last month, local authorites, the ministry and the environmental group EcoOcean organized a wide scale cleanup operation involving thousands of volunteers. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority carried out its own cleanup operation in coastal national parks and nature reserves.

As part of the cleanup effort, the Environmental Protection Ministry developed a system to gauge the extent of beach pollution at specific spots along the coast using a sieve. The ministry set a limit on the number of particles of tar that a beach could still contain to be deemed clean. At this point, the ministry considers about 80 percent of the 101 declared public beaches along the coast to be clean, meaning that the public is free to use them.

When the cleanliness of the entire coastline, including areas that are not declared public beaches, is taken into account, 61 percent have been found to be either clean or suffering from mild pollution and only 3 percent are considered significantly polluted. The areas with more significant pollutions are mostly rocky stretches of coastline such as the Dor and Habonim beaches south of Haifa as well as Rosh Hanikra near the Lebanese border. There are still significant pieces of tar on the rocks at these locations.

Tar is stuck on rocks after an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea, at Tel-Dor Nature Reserve, ​Israel, last month.Credit: Ariel Schalit,AP

The state-owned Environmental Services Company, which is dealing with the tar that is being collected, has so far hauled away more than 650 tons of tar mixed with other debris, making up more than 80 percent of the debris along the shore. The tar and debris collected so far is being temporarily kept where Israel’s hazardous substances are stored, and it has now been decided that it will be burned at a nearby plant. The Environment Ministry and the parks authority also plan to carry out an underwater survey for pieces of tar that have sunk to the sea floor.

The investigation of the source of the oil spill is ongoing, along with efforts to take legal action against the ship suspected of causing the spill. The Emerald was identified by the ministry’s Marine Environment Protection Division as the alleged culprit.

The private intelligence firm Black Cube has said that Oryx Shipping, a company based in Piraeus, Greece, is at the top of the corporate pyramid of ownership of the ship and that the company is owned in turn by a Syrian family named Malah. The ship, Black Cube said, is insured by one of the only companies known to insure Iranian ships, and according to the Israeli Environment Ministry, the ship leaked the oil while transporting it from Iran to Syria.

On Monday, an expert representing the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds arrived in Israel. He is expected to provide samples of the tar from Israel’s coast to a laboratory in Britain. To qualify for compensation, Israel will have to prove that the suspect ship was the source of the pollution.

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