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Israel says it has identified ship that caused massive oil leak in Mediterranean

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel tweets that Israel has ‘laid its hands’ on the vessel responsible for tar polluting country’s coastline, doesn’t name ship

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel walk on Ashdod beach on February 21, 2021, after an offshore oil spill caused damage along Israel's Mediterranean coast (Kobi Gideon / GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel walk on Ashdod beach on February 21, 2021, after an offshore oil spill caused damage along Israel's Mediterranean coast (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Israeli authorities have identified the ship responsible for a massive oil spill that polluted the bulk of the country’s Mediterranean coastline, Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said Wednesday.

“We have laid our hands on the criminal ship,” Gamliel tweeted. “Our long reach will get to all those who harm nature in the sea and our beaches.”

She did not provide further details.

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

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

Gamliel’s comments came days after her ministry absolved a Greek tanker oil tanker of responsibility for the oil leak. The ministry said over the weekend that while it had initially identified around 10 potentially responsible ships, further investigations had swelled this to dozens of possibilities.

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

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

The Environmental Protection Ministry reported Tuesday that it had already removed some 120 tons of sand, refuse and other material contaminated with tar from the northern coastal beaches of Jisr az-Zarqa, Herzliya and Atlit and from Palmachim in central Israel. It said preparations were underway to pick the waste up from Haifa, Rishon Lezion, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Nahariya and all the INPA beaches.

The 120 tons of waste collected so far is a tenth of the estimated total.

According to local authority estimates, Haifa’s five beaches have accumulated 152 tons of contaminated waste, with 100 tons in Atlit, 40 in northern Nahariya, 12 in Tel Baruch, and ten each on the beaches of Rishon Lezion and Sironit in Netanya.

A fresh ball of tar on the beach at the Gador Nature Reserve in northern Israel, March 2, 2021. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

Out of the NIS 45 million ($13.8 million) approved a week ago by the government for spending on the disaster, NIS 10 million is being allocated for waste removal. NIS 5 million will be spent on research, monitoring and surveys, and the remaining NIS 30 million is being divided between the local authorities which are directly responsible for all beaches except those administered by INPA.

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

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