Days after a mysterious oil spill washed up on Israel's Mediterranean shoreline, the county was forced to close up its beaches. Now, the country's Nature and Parks Authority has called the incident "one of the most severe ecological disasters to have hit Israel". Out of the 190 km of coastline, 170 km was hit by this disaster and it isn't over yet. Tar continues to wash up to shore and without a thorough investigation, authorities do not know the full scale of the disaster. Importantly, they do not know the cause or responsible party as well. The tar from the oil spill started spreading last week following a winter storm which made the approaching disaster harder to spot and deal with at the sea. The source of this spill is suspected to be a passing ship in an area that is 50 km away from the shoreline. When the area was investigated via satellite, nine ships were found to have been around in the area at the suspected time of the disaster. The environmental minister has expressed confidence in being able to locate the specific ship. Once it is located, it is expected that Israel will likely sue them to compensate for expenses that occurred in cleaning up the disaster.
Already, several animals and birds have been found dead on the beach and covered in tar, including a 55 ft long fin whale that was found beached last week. Local wildlife such as sea turtles, birds and fishes are also found to have been affected, either covered in an oily residue or having ingested the oil. Of particular concern to ecologists is the fate of the reef-building snail known as 'Dendropoma petraeum'. This species of snail is already vulnerable given warming water temperatures due to climate change and are now thought to be particularly vulnerable to other ecological pressures.
For now, the Nature and Parks Authority has organised a massive clean-up drive alongside more than 4,000 volunteers from a non-profit group known as EcoOcean but the outlook is grim. Authorities say a full clean-up could take months and even years. In the meantime, Israeli authorities have reached out to the European Union for aid in investigating the spill. The EU has a system of monitoring such oil spills in the Mediterranean using information collected from a network of weather satellites that can use ocean currents and weather data to trace an oil spill back to its source. But there may be no early revelation of the responsible parties. Following a request by the Environmental Protection Ministry, a gag order has been issued on the investigation that censors details of the case, preventing everything from the name of the vessel which caused the leak to its destination to be published under this order.
The reason that has been given is that the investigation involves 'complex international aspects.' While the government is trying to instil confidence in its handling of the case and assuring that such disasters will not happen so easily next time, the NGOs and the general public are reported to be sceptical following the gag order. Already there are calls for an investigation into the government's handling of the case and alleged failures that led to this preventable disaster spreading. A common but persistent claim that the government is facing is that it knew about the spill before the tar reached the coast. It may also be said that the global track record on countries bringing guilty parties to task for oil spills is not great. Companies often get away with minimal long term effects on their operations and often with
much of what they are initially charged with, regardless of the seriousness of the spill. Even if stricter measures are considered, they are generally not adopted in the end as companies get away with simply paying fines for oil spills that continue to affect the local ecology log after most clean-up efforts end.
In this particular case, the issue is likely to become bigger as the oil spill spreads to other countries' shorelines. Already Lebanon has stated that the oil spill has reached its shores. The United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon have been asked to draw up an official report on the matter, raising the hope that details of the oil spill will be published.