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Environment Ministry says suspected oil spill detected off coast of Netanya

IDF reconnaissance flights used to locate spill, currently some 20 kilometers from shore; ministry working to determine severity and origin

Illustrative: A woman holds a dead sea turtle covered in tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea at the Gador nature reserve near Hadera, northern Israel, February 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Illustrative: A woman holds a dead sea turtle covered in tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea at the Gador nature reserve near Hadera, northern Israel, February 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The Environmental Protection Ministry said late Tuesday that a suspected oil spill has been detected some 20 kilometers (12 miles) off the coast of the central city of Netanya.

The ministry said it had been informed of a suspected spill after it was spotted by satellites used by the European Maritime Safety Agency.  After initially being unable to detect the spill, it was found after the ministry received assistance from the Defense Ministry that sent out reconnaissance flights.

The suspected spill is currently some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Israel’s Mediterranean shore, the ministry said, adding that it was working to conduct a closer inspection to determine the severity of the incident.

The ministry gave no details on the size, severity, or origin of the spill, saying only that it would update the public as it became necessary.

The report comes almost exactly a year since the country suffered one of its worst environmental disasters when a massive oil spill covered the Mediterranean

Israel was taken by surprise on February 18 when massive amounts of tar began washing onto its coastline following stormy weather, along with the corpse of a fin whale some 17 meters (55 feet) long.

Soldiers clean tar off the Palmachim beach following an offshore oil spill which drenched most of the Israeli coastline, February 22, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)`

Over the following days, it became clear that beaches all along its Mediterranean coast had been contaminated and that wildlife had paid a heavy price.

In the wake of the leak, the sale of Mediterranean fish was temporarily suspended and beaches were closed, with the first 17 locations reopening on March 7. Thousands of volunteers rallied to help with the cleanup, which has only just ended.

The long-term damage to ecosystems still remains to be seen.

Evidence from an investigation by the Environmental Protection Ministry at the time indicated that the leak of tens of tons of crude oil took place between February 1 and 2, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) out at sea, and came from the Syrian-owned tanker Emerald, which was not insured. The London-based International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund has agreed in principle to pay damages.

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