Environment Ministry frees tanker on $100,000 bail during probe of benzene leak

Criminal investigation seeks to identify cause of small suspected leak into sea and air, as Gadiv petrochemical company loaded benzene onto tanker for export

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

View of the Haifa Bay in northern Israel, on April 24, 2018. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
View of the Haifa Bay in northern Israel, on April 24, 2018. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The Environmental Protection Ministry said Thursday that it had released a tanker hired by the Gadiv petrochemical company on $100,000 bail, following an incident last week in which benzene is thought to have leaked from a pipe during loading at port, polluting the sea and air.

Gadiv, in the northern city of Haifa, had hired the tanker from its parent group, Bazan, which in turn forms part of Israel Chemicals’ Ltd. Gadiv makes aromatics — starting materials for various consumer products.

“At this stage, and despite the denial of those involved, the Marine Unit of the Ministry of Environmental Protection has evidence that the benzene that leaked did indeed reach the sea,” a ministry statement said.

“The investigation of the ship’s crew has been completed, and according to the law and maritime rules in these cases, the ship was released on bail of $100,000.”

The criminal investigation is continuing, “in order to collect all the evidence for this serious incident, in which a dangerous and toxic substance of the benzene type was spilled into the air and sea — even if in relatively small amounts,” the statement continued.

The leak is suspected to have taken place at the Haifa Port’s northern chemical terminal while benzene was being loaded onto the tanker, YM EARTH, for export.

Last year, the ministry fined Gadiv NIS 634,300 ($197,000) for violating the terms of its emissions permit.

A report on the future of Haifa’s petrochemical industries by the international management consultancy McKinsey, commissioned by the National Economic Council within the Prime Minister’s Office, determined that shutting down Gadiv would cut benzene emissions by 27 percent, toluene emissions by 46%, and xylene emissions by 76%.

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