A massive oil spill off Israel’s Mediterranean coast has been described by Park Authorities Head Shaul Goldstein as “Israel’s worst environmental disaster in a decade”. Over the past week, Israeli beaches have seen tar washed up along 100 miles of its coastline, with 70 tonnes of tar and contaminated material collected.
Warning of the disaster arrived on the shores of Nitzanim beach, southern Israel, when a whale was found washed up last Thursday. The weekend saw a continued spate of dead sea life and debris being washed up on beaches from north to south of the coastline. The UK’s Ambassador to Israel, H.E. Neil Wigan OBE, has assisted clean-up efforts alongside thousands of volunteers.
A joint advisory notice has been issued from the Health, Interior and Environment Ministries urging Israelis to not frequent the coastline until further notice. Additionally, the Health Ministry placed a precautionary ban on the sale of fish and seafood from the Mediterranean.
Almost immediately, Israelis flocked to their local beaches and began assisting with the clean-up operation, however a number of citizens were hospitalised due to inhaling toxic fumes. As the incident became a public health risk, the IDF and Park Authority took over the coordination and responsibility of the clean-up.
In a joint statement, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and Nature and Parks Authority head Shaul Goldstein agreed that “starting this week, thousands of IDF soldiers will assist workers and volunteers for the Nature and Parks Authority in mapping areas damaged by the tar pollution, cleaning beaches and in the removal of pollutants”.
In response to the crisis, the Israeli government has approved a 45 million NIS ($13.8million) budget for the clean-up from the state’s fund for the Protection of Maritime Pollution. The Environmental Protection Ministry said it expects to take 1,200 tonnes of tar and contaminated waste to biological treatment facilities or appropriate landfill sites.
Due to the oil spill taking place outside of Israeli waters, a complex mutli-agency investigation has been launched to identify the culprits. Gila Gamliel, Environmental Protection Minister, was quoted at a press conference stating: “It should be understood that this is a complex investigation, most of which is outside the territorial waters of the State of Israel, so we are cooperating with international bodies to find the person responsible for the damage”.
An initial 8-day gag order was placed on releasing any details of the spill (beyond those of public health concerns) due to a fear of disrupting the investigation. However, after pushback from the environmental community and media outlets, Judge Fallah overturned the ruling allowing media outlets to carry out and publish their own investigations.