Authorities in Israel are trying to locate the source of a suspected oil spill last week that has been described as one of the country’s most severe ecological disasters, closing beaches and harming wildlife.
What is Happening?
- Blobs of sticky tar started washing up on the country’s shores last week, and images posted by official government accounts showed seabirds and turtles covered in oil. Of the nine turtles found, four have died. The rest have been taken to the National Sea Turtle Rescue Center. Additionally, a fin whale washed up dead on the Israeli coast. Preliminary tests reveal that it contained oil in its body.
Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority (NPA) said, “The enormous amounts of tar emitted in recent days to the shores of Israel from south to north caused one of the most severe ecological disasters to hit Israel.”
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- By Monday February 21, the oil had spread to the beaches of south Lebanon.
- The government urged people not to visit a wide stretch of beach. Of Israel’s 190kms of beach, 170kms were impacted by the spill- 40% of Israel’s coastline– and 16 communities have been affected.
- A massive cleanup is underway but the Nature and Parks Authority said it would take a long time to make the marine area safe again, as tar continues to wash up on the country’s beaches, complicating recovery efforts.
- It has established a registration and information centre for volunteers who wish to help. More than 4 000 people from the nonprofit organisation EcoOcean are working to remove the tar, but the NPA has warned that it will take years to remove all of it; most of it will have to be done by hand.
- The government is currently investigating the cause of the spill with the help of European authorities. So far, the investigation has pinpointed nine ships as potential culprits; Israel thinks that it likely spilled from a ship about a week ago during stormy weather in the Mediterranean. One candidate is a February 11 oil spill from a ship passing about 33km from shore.
- Israel could take legal action if the responsible vessel is identified, such as suing insurance companies for the cost of the cleanup of the oil spill.
- However, a court has placed details of the investigation under censor following a request from the Environmental Protection Ministry, prompting criticism from environmental organisations and journalists alike.