Israel says tanker suspected of oil spill off coast has Syrian owners

The Emerald is owned via a complex structure by the Malah family of Syria, according to information given by a private intelligence firm to Environmental Protection Ministry

A dog smells pieces of tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea, on a beach in the Gdor Nature Reserve near Michmoret, Israel, March 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
A dog smells pieces of tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea, on a beach in the Gdor Nature Reserve near Michmoret, Israel, March 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Information collected by an Israeli-founded private intelligence firm has revealed the identity of the owners of the Emerald, the tanker suspected of spilling massive amounts of oil off the Israeli coast in February, the Environmental Protection Ministry said Sunday.

The investigation by the firm Black Cube found that Emerald – which is registered in the Marshall Islands – is owned by a company called Emerald Marine LTD. Black Cube claims to have found the ownership by using international shipping listings. It also said it recorded a senior captain working for Emerald Marine LTD and a brother of an Emerald Marine LTD owner. The ministry stressed in a statement that Black Cube conducted the investigation on its own.

The information Black Cube gave the ministry indicated further that a company names Oryx Shipping has ownership over the Emerald. Oryx Shipping is registered in Piraeus, Greece, and owned by the Syrian Malah family. Its ships are insured by The Islamic P&I Club, known as one of the only firms in the world willing to insure Iranian vessels.

The information provided by Black Cube indicates that the Malah group holds a number of shell companies in the Marshall Islands, Panama, and even one British company. All of these are registered to the same address in Piraeus. When representatives of Black Cube visited the address, they found an apartment there, with no signs indicating a business presence

More than 1,000 tons of tar are estimated to have washed onto Israel’s Mediterranean coastline last month, causing extensive environmental damage and forcing the closure of beaches to the public. Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority called the incident one of the country’s worst environmental disasters, and the cleanup is expected to take months.

Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Ministry identified the Emerald as the ship it believed was responsible for the oil spill. Its investigation determined the ship was smuggling oil from Iran to Syria when the spill occurred in early February.

The homepage of Oryx Shipping’s website (screen capture)

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel has claimed that the oil spill was an intentional attack by Iran, but has provided no evidence for her claim.

Ministry officials investigating the incident said it was unclear whether the spill was deliberate or accidental, but said that they had received no warning about the incident until tar started washing up on the shore.

Defense officials have largely remained silent about the charge by Gamliel, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

But according to several news reports, the security establishment has so far found no evidence of the claim that the spill was deliberate “environmental terrorism.”

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