Storm brings more tar to Israel’s Mediterranean coast following major oil spill

Environmental Protection Ministry says large chunks found on Neve Yam Beach, several other locations in northern Israel; cleanup efforts in progress

Workers clean up chunks of tar that washed up on Dado Beach in Haifa, March 12, 2021. (Fred Arzoine/Environmental Protection Ministry)
Workers clean up chunks of tar that washed up on Dado Beach in Haifa, March 12, 2021. (Fred Arzoine/Environmental Protection Ministry)

Stormy weather brought fresh tar deposits on Friday to several beaches following a major oil spill last month that polluted much of Israel’s Mediterranean coastline.

The Environmental Protection Ministry said large chunks of tar were found on the Neve Yam Beach in northern Israel. Tar was also detected on several other beaches in the north.

Local authorities were cleaning the beaches and the ministry said it would continue to track the pollution as the storm weakens.

The announcement came days after more beaches were allowed to open following intensive cleaning efforts in the wake of the spill and a ban on selling fish caught in the Mediterranean Sea was lifted.

Chunks of tar are seen on Dado Beach in Haifa on March 12, 2021. (Fred Arzoine/Environmental Protection Ministry)

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. The cleanup is expected to take months.

Last week, the Environmental Protection Ministry identified the ship it believed was responsible for the February 1 oil spill as the Panama-flagged, formerly Libyan-owned tanker named Emerald, which it said was carrying Iranian oil.

The investigation determined the ship was smuggling oil from Iran to Syria when the spill occurred in early February.

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel at a press conference regarding an oil spill on Israel’s beaches, at the Ministry of Environmental Protection offices in Jerusalem on March 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s 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 minister in 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.”

On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported that since 2019, Israel has targeted at least 12 ships bound for Syria, most of them transporting Iranian oil, with mines and other weapons.

The attacks did not sink the tankers, but forced at least two of the vessels to return to port in Iran.

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