Israeli Court Places Gag Order On Oil Spill Investigation

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President Reuven Rivlin observing clean up at the Hertzliya beach. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

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In an unusual and surprising move on Monday, a Haifa court placed a seven-day gag order on the investigation of the massive oil spill that has polluted the majority of Israel’s beaches in what is believed to be the worst ecological disaster in Israel’s history.

The disaster is believed to be caused by an oil spill from a foreign ship seen near Israel’s coast last week. The gag order prohibits the publication of details such as the name of the ship seen last week, its cargo, its ports of departure and destination, and its route.

The ruling by the court followed a request by the Environmental Protection Ministry, which is conducting the investigation. Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said that the ministry is investigating the possibility that the pollution was carried out purposely for malicious reasons.

“They either spilled the oil from the ship into the water or a malfunction occurred and they didn’t report it,” said Gamliel. “Finding those responsible for the disaster is a complicated process, but we will do everything in our power to find those culpable.”

Meanwhile, a small Israeli task force scoured the sands of a nature reserve along Israel’s Mediterranean coast Monday, taking part in a widening effort to clean up a disastrous oil spill that has blackened most of the country’s shoreline.

Israeli soldiers wearing protective suits clean tar from a beach after an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea in Sharon Beach Nature Reserve, near Gaash, Israel, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The roughly dozen workers on Palmachim Beach were among thousands of volunteers, soldiers and park rangers who have taken up the task of extracting millions of tiny globs of sticky black tar that have coated the Israeli shoreline in recent days after an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea. The cleanup is expected to take months.

Green bags filled with tar-coated shells and detritus quickly piled up on the beach. The ministry and environmental groups estimate at least 1,000 tons of tar washed up on the coast.

An acrid petroleum filled the air and a black streak at the high tide mark ran the length of the shore. It was just a tiny stretch of an oil slick that has coated almost the entire length of Israel’s 120-mile-long (195-kilometer) coastline.

On Sunday, the ministry urged Israelis to stay away from the beaches, citing serious health hazards posed by the tar. It has caused extensive damage to wildlife.

The environmental damage is not restricted to Israel. Farther north, deposits of tar have started washing up in southern Lebanon.

The management of the city of Tyre’s coastal nature reserve, one of Lebanon’s last remaining sandy beaches and an important nesting site for endangered Loggerhead and Green sea turtles, said the spill could endanger marine life and biodiversity in the area.

The reserve is one of two marine protected areas in Lebanon and contains a wide diversity of ecosystems and is located on a major bird migration route.

Hassan Hamza, engineer at the Tyre reserve, said teams were evaluating how much tar washed up to organize quick clean ups. He said it appeared that “most Lebanese beaches have been affected by this pollution.”

Caretaker Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab has asked the defense and environment ministers to follow up and said the government was “acting accordingly to repair the damage caused by the leakage.”

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem & AP)