Suspected oil spill at sea could be major regional pollution event, ministry warns
The Environmental Protection Ministry said on Wednesday that a suspected oil spill detected the previous night off the coast could become a national or regional pollution incident, and gave instructions for contingency plans to be made. faced with such a situation are ready for use.
Observations so far have detected “suspicious spots” on the sea surface 20-40 kilometers (12-24 miles) from shore along a coastal strip between the central cities of Rishon Lezion and Netanya.
A dedicated crisis room has been set up in Haifa and Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg has approved the incident’s designation as Level 3, meaning it could become a major maritime incident. of national or regional proportion, the ministry said in a statement.
The decision to increase vigilance to Level 3 was made in light of the geographic location of the suspected spill and the rapid movement. This will remain in place until the situation is clarified, the ministry said.
“Currently, a number of private vessels under the direction of the ministry are ready to start carrying out blocking and pumping if possible,” the statement said.
The deep-sea research vessel R/V Bat-Galim, jointly operated by the ministry and Israel’s Institute for Oceanographic and Limnological Research, was preparing to set sail with equipment to take samples and spray dispersants into the water.
“If it is found to be a spill that extends for several kilometres, the ability to deal with it at sea will be quite limited,” the ministry warned.
The ministry said further close checks will be carried out later today, including sea patrols and overflights, “to get a clear picture of the situation and what action can be taken at sea.”
Officials will also build models to study how water and wind currents will influence the situation, the ministry said.
The IDF was helping with sea and air patrols and formulating a response, and the IDF Home Front Command was also preparing to help if a spill reached the shore.
All relevant agencies, including the Ministry of Defence, Society for the Protection of Nature and local coastal municipalities have been involved in assessing the situation and have been instructed to prepare national contingency plans for the activation, according to the press release.
Michal Stern, head of the National Oil and Marine Pollution Response Volunteer Network run by the non-profit EcoOcean in conjunction with the ministry, said aerial observations are not accurate enough to confirm an oil spill. .
Speaking to the Kan public broadcaster, she said the suspicious spots could even be just low clouds.
“If only that was it,” she said.
Stern said a forecasted weather storm for Thursday means there is a narrow window of opportunity for action. No matter what action is taken, if it really is an oil spill, some will inevitably make it to shore, she predicted.
The Israel Water Authority said in a statement that so far no special instructions have been given to the country’s massive desalination plants, which supply 80 percent of the country’s drinking water.
The authority said the factories’ filtration systems were operating as usual and if there was any suspicion of pollution, the pumps would be immediately shut down.
“Even in such a case, an interruption in water supply is not expected,” the authority said, adding that it is ready to continue supplying water under any scenario.
The Environment Ministry has given no details about the origin of the spill, which comes almost exactly a year after the country suffered one of its worst environmental disasters.
Israel was taken by surprise on February 18, 2021, when huge amounts of tar began spreading on its coastline following an oil spill during stormy weather, along with the corpse of a fin whale from about 17 meters (55 feet) long.
Over the next few days, it became clear that beaches all along Israel’s Mediterranean coast had been contaminated and wildlife had taken a heavy toll.
Following this leak, the sale of Mediterranean fish was temporarily suspended and the beaches were closed. Thousands of volunteers stepped up to help clean up. Long-term damage to ecosystems remains to be seen.
Evidence from an investigation by the Ministry of Environmental Protection at the time indicated that the leak of tens of tons of crude oil took place on February 1 and 2, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) in sea, and came from the oil tanker belonging to Syria. Emerald, who was uninsured. The London-based International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund agreed in principle to pay damages.