After oil spill, Health Ministry says fish from Mediterranean now okay for sale

Authorities open additional 40 beaches to public, but warn more tar could still wash up

Israelis clean tar off the Bat Yam beach following an offshore oil spill which polluted most of the Israeli coastline, March 2, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israelis clean tar off the Bat Yam beach following an offshore oil spill which polluted most of the Israeli coastline, March 2, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Health Ministry announced Tuesday that fish caught in the Mediterranean Sea can once again be sold in Israel, following last month’s major oil spill that severely contaminated most of Israel’s coastline and killed vast swathes of wildlife.

Lifting the ban, which was introduced on February 24, the ministry said that fish and other marine life were now safe to be sold for consumption.

“After a series of laboratory tests performed by the Marine and Lakes Exploration Laboratory of fish samples taken from different areas of the Mediterranean, it has emerged that levels of pollutants found did not exceed the maximum threshold allowed,” the ministry said in a statement.

Announcing the ban two weeks ago, the ministry said that it was a precautionary measure and there was no definite evidence that eating Mediterranean fish posed a health danger.

Pieces of tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea wash up on a beach in the Gdor Nature Reserve near Michmoret, Israel, March 1, 2021. The cleanup from the disastrous oil spill that has blackened most of the country’s shoreline is expected to take months. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

More than 1,000 tons of tar are estimated to have washed onto Israel’s Mediterranean coastline last month, causing extensive environmental damage and forcing the closure of beaches to the public. Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority has called the incident one of the country’s worst environmental disasters. The cleanup is expected to take months.

Also Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Ministry said that an additional 40 beaches were safe for the public to visit, after opening the first 17 on Sunday.

The authorities warned, however, that large amounts of tar could yet wash up on beaches that had been cleared.

The authorities also noted the bathing season had yet to officially begin and swimming was prohibited in areas without lifeguard services.

Last week, the Environmental Protection Ministry identified the ship it believed was responsible for the February 1 oil spill as the Panama-flagged, formerly Libyan-owned tanker named Emerald, which it said was carrying Iranian oil.

The investigation determined the ship was smuggling oil from Iran to Syria when the spill occurred in early February.

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel at a press conference regarding an oil spill on Israel’s beaches, at the Ministry of Environmental Protection offices in Jerusalem on March 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s environmental protection minister, Gila Gamliel, has claimed that the oil spill was an intentional attack by Iran, but has provided no evidence for her claim.

Ministry officials investigating the incident said it was unclear whether the spill was deliberate or accidental, but said that they had received no warning about the incident until tar started washing up on the shore.

Defense officials have largely remained silent about the charge by Gamliel, a minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

But according to several news reports, the security establishment has so far found no evidence of the claim that the spill was deliberate “environmental terrorism.”

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