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State-owned pipeline to pay NIS 250,000 for damaging corals, won’t admit liability

Court approves settlement deal between EAPC and parks authority for damage caused in 2016 to over 2,600 corals and other creatures in Red Sea

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

Corals growing on construction piles in the port of Eilat. (Israel Nature and Parks Eilat District Ecologist, Dr Assaf Zvuloni)
Corals growing on construction piles in the port of Eilat. (Israel Nature and Parks Eilat District Ecologist, Dr Assaf Zvuloni)

The Europe Asia Pipeline Company will pay NIS 250,000 (just under $74,000) for damage caused to corals, fish, invertebrates and other marine creatures, according to a settlement agreement given the status of a legal judgement on Monday.

The settlement agreement approved by the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court does not include any admission of liability on the EAPC’s part.

Instead, it describes the payment part the company’s willingness “to help the environmental aims of the Fund for the Protection of Nature and Heritage,” which works with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

The parks authority had brought a civil case but agreed to withdraw it as part of the agreement.

The sum includes all legal costs.

EAPC was convicted more than two years ago of harming protected nature in the Red Sea after damaging more than 2,600 corals off the southern coastal town of Eilat.

The state-owned EAPC works out of the northern pier of the Eilat Oil Port. In January 2014, it contracted South Marina Divers to carry out work, including the dismantling of construction piles — long cylinders that provide support for structures built on top of them. During the work — for which permission should have been sought from the parks authority but was not — several piles toppled into the sea.

According to the charge sheet submitted at the Eilat Magistrate’s Court in February 2020, the work, including the removal of the piles, caused “serious damage” to life forms that were growing on them as well as to reefs growing at their feet.

At the time, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority provided reports and photographs to prove the damage, citing 665 corals that were aged around 50 and whose rehabilitation would take many years. It also documented harm to many creatures whose lives depend on corals, including fish and invertebrates.

Corals growing on construction piles in the port of Eilat. (Israel Nature and Parks Eilat District Ecologist, Dr Assaf Zvuloni)

In January, the High Court dismissed an appeal against the conviction and upheld a total fine of NIS 180,000 ($53,000) to be paid by EAPC’s Eilat director Ze’ev Zel, along with South Marina Divers Ltd and its director Eyal Bar Zion.

A statement from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel said that the newly approved compromise deal was “another reminder of the great destruction and damage that the EAPC causes to nature in Israel.”

The statement argued the company should not be allowed to realize the deal made with a consortium of Israeli and United Arab Emirates businessmen to use Israel as a landbridge for Gulf crude oil bound for European markets.

In November, the Environmental Protection Ministry notified the pipeline company that it would not grant permits to allow realization of the deal, citing concerns over possible leaks.

Yellow water seen in the Zin stream in southern Israel’s Negev Desert. (Roi Galili)

In April, the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court fined the EAPC NIS 1.6 million (around $486,000) for polluting the Zin stream in southern Israel on a pair of separate occasions in 2011.

The court also fined a number of former senior officials at the firm, formerly known as the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline company, including former EAPC director-general Yair Vida, who was ordered to pay NIS 75,000 (over $22,00).

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