Oil Spill Hits Israel’s Mediterranean Coast

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Clumps of sticky oil washed up on Israel’s Mediterranean beaches this weekend after a tanker was suspected of leaking. Officials are calling it one of the country’s “most serious ecological disasters” that has already seriously harmed marine life, including sea turtles and a fin whale that washed up dead last week after swallowing oil. The country indefinitely closed all of its beaches along the Mediterranean as thousands of volunteers worked to clean up the shoreline.

  •  Israeli and European agencies are collaborating to figure out the source of the spill. 
  • Once identified, the country could sue for compensation to deal with the ecological harm caused. 

Why this Matters: As long as there’s a fossil fuel industry extracting, transporting, and burning oil, the risk of spills and their lasting effects remains. And while the oil companies may be forced to pay damages after the fact, no amount of money can fully restore ecosystems and the communities that depend on them. 

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority warned that the “consequences will be seen for years to come.”

What’s more, is that some people who volunteered to help clean up portions of the spill were harmed by merely breathing the toxic fumes permeating from the oil. 

Cause of the Spill: As NPR reported, Israeli and European authorities are investigating what happened. Israeli officials believe a ship spilled tens or even hundreds of tons of oil in the Mediterranean, beyond the country’s territorial waters.

 

  • The spill likely happened about a week ago, when stormy weather affected the region. 
  • It’s unclear which ship or ships are responsible. Israeli authorities are working with European officials to review satellite images of ships that passed through the area.

A Response Plan: When communities experience oil spills, they’re not always ready to respond to the catastrophe in a timely manner. For instance, when the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, investigations revealed that neither BP nor the U.S. Coast Guard were prepared to deal with a spill of this size. It’s for reasons like these that opponents of drilling in U.S. Arctic waters were so adamant about a Trump administration proposal to open up this land to oil leasing. 

Likewise, in Israel, lawmakers have delayed funding preparedness measures for spills like the one that recently hit the nation’s coast. As the Times of Israel explained

  • A cabinet decision (in Hebrew) made in June 2008, when Ehud Olmert was prime minister, ordered that within three to five years from January 1, 2009, the ministry would fill staff positions and acquire all the equipment and sailing vessels needed to prevent oil contaminations at sea.
  • However, the Finance Ministry blocked the transfer of additional funds and opposed enshrining the decision into law.
  • The current environmental protection minister, Gila Gamliel, said Sunday that she had agreed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to submit a proposal for government approval on Monday for immediate funding for beach rehabilitation and advancement of the legislation that should have been passed years ago.

 

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