Greek tanker cleared of suspicion for oil spill that polluted Israel’s beaches

Environmental Protection Ministry team checks Minerva Helen in Piraeus port, eliminates it from list of dozens of tankers under investigation for massive tar contamination

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

The Greek oil tanker Minerva Helen. (Environmental Protection Ministry)
The Greek oil tanker Minerva Helen. (Environmental Protection Ministry)

The Environmental Protection Ministry announced Sunday that it had absolved a Greek oil tanker suspected of responsibility for the oil leak that has contaminated Israel’s Mediterranean coast with tons of sticky, black tar.

Investigators flew to Greece and checked over the Minerva Helen on Saturday, which is docked at the port of Piraus.

A ministry statement said, “Following a thorough, professional and comprehensive inspection carried out by the Environmental Protection Ministry’s inspector and an inspector from [Israel’s] Shipping and Ports Administration, the ship was finally eliminated as the source of the pollution.”

The probe was carried out with the full cooperation of the Greek authorities and with the involvement of the Greek coast guard, the ministry added, stressing that no contact was made with the ship or its owners at any stage.

An Israeli soldier wearing a full protective suit holds a piece of tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea during a cleanup operation at Sharon Beach Nature Reserve, near Gaash, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The ministry, which initially said it had identified around ten potentially responsible ships, said further investigations had swelled this to dozens of possibilities. Of these, around ten have been ruled out following checks carried out in cooperation with international bodies.

On Saturday, the ministry announced that a second suspected oil slick had been identified some 150 kilometers west of Israel’s shores, but appeared to be moving away from them.

A storm more than a week ago threw tons of tar onto Israel’s beaches, which apparently leaked from a ship.

Marine veterinarians take samples from a 17-meter long fin whale washed ashore on the Nitzanim beach, near the city of Ashkelon, February 21, 2021. (Flash90)

Reports of the pollution first emerged when a dead 17-meter (56-foot) baby fin whale washed up on Israel’s southern coast, along with other wildlife.

Some experts have called the spill the worst environmental disaster to hit the country’s beaches in decades.

A massive cleanup operation was launched, with thousands of Israelis volunteering to help clean up the shoreline, alongside workers of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and even IDF soldiers.

On Wednesday, as the cleanup gathered pace, the Health Ministry ordered a precautionary ban on the sale of fish and other seafood from the Mediterranean.

read more: