Israeli Oil Spill Results in Diplomatic Mess

by Audrey Chang ’23

Source: Forbes

Published Mar. 19th, 2021

In February, Israel’s 120 miles of coastline were ravaged by 1,000 tons of sticky, black tar. The oil spill is acknowledged by officials as one of the worst ecological disasters in the nation’s history.

Nearly $14 million have been allocated to emergency relief by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The spill was estimated to have occurred between February 6th to 10th, two weeks before crude oil first washed up along the shore of Israel’s beaches on February 18th. Irreversible ecological damage has been inflicted with no knowledge of what long-term effects are to come.

After a two-week investigation, agents of the Environmental Protection Ministry traced the spill to the Emerald, a Panamanian-flagged and unregistered Libyan tanker.

The vessel did not report any destinations upon stopping in both Iran and Syria, fueling the Israeli Environmental Protection Minister Minister Gila Gamliel’s argument that the spill was a deliberate terrorist attack from Iran.

This is the second in a series of accusations that Israel has made against Iran concerning wrongdoings at sea.

In a news briefing, Gamliel emphasized that “The operator of the ship has black blood on their hands,” and that the government would be working to receive compensation for damages through an international oil pollution compensation program and the ship’s insurance.

Other Israeli officials, however, had skepticisms regarding the claims made by Gamliel and expressed that they had no knowledge of Gamliel’s plan to make her claims public. They stated that it is highly unlikely that the oil spill was actually an act of “eco-terrorism,” and that the spill most likely occurred due to a technical mishap.

Iran had no immediate response to the accusations.

Recently, though, an Israeli private intelligence firm, the Black Cube, discovered that the vessel traced to the oil spills was actually owned by the Syrian Malah family. The ship was registered in the Marshall Islands under the Oryx Shipping Company headquartered in Piraeus, Greece.

The Environmental Protection Ministry has no connection to the Black Cube’s private investigations but has stated that if relevant information is given concerning the spill, it will be used to hold the owners of the ship and its insurers accountable.

As of March 17th, it has been reported that 650 tons of tar have been cleared away by volunteers, the Israeli military, local authorities, and environmental organizations. 83 of the 101 Israeli beaches have passed the coastal tar index, meaning that 82% of beaches have been reopened to the public after a month of cleanup.

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