A British expert in marine oil spills representing the London-based International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund visited Israel last week to collect samples of crude oil leaked into the Mediterranean Sea by the Syrian-owned ship Emerald at the beginning of last month, leading to massive contamination of beaches along the country’s coastline.
The visit took place within the framework of the Environmental Protection Ministry’s plan to secure compensation from the fund.
Samples of tar, which results from the physical and chemical breakdown of crude oil, were taken from beaches in Haifa, Netanya, and Ashdod.
The ministry said it expects a detailed breakdown of the tar will give it the evidence it needs to confirm that the Emerald was responsible for the leak and to help it secure compensation for the resulting damage and the cleaning of the beaches.
States can either sue the insurers of the ships’ owners or, if that is unlikely to bear fruit, appeal to the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund.
Israel was taken by surprise on February 18 when tar began washing onto its Mediterranean coastline following stormy weather, along with the corpse of a fin whale some 17 meters (some 55 feet) long.
During the following days, it became clear that beaches from Rosh Hanikra in the far north to Nitzanim in the south had been contaminated and that wildlife had paid a heavy price. Tar is still being washed onto shore.
The sale of Mediterranean fish was temporarily suspended and beaches were closed, with the first 17 reopening only on March 7. Thousands of volunteers rallied over many days to help with the cleanup. Officials dealing with marine issues said they could not remember an incident with such a wide geographical spread. The long-term damage to ecosystems still remains to be seen.
On March 3, the Environment Ministry announced that the Emerald tanker, a 19-year-old Libyan ship sailing under a Panamanian flag and carrying crude oil, probably from Iran to Syria, was responsible for the spill.
On Monday, an investigation by the firm Black Cube found that the Emerald, which is registered in the Marshall Islands, is owned by the Syrian Malah family.