Photo: Flash90

Oil disaster on Israeli beaches

The IDF also deployed thousands of soldiers over the weekend to help clean up an oil spill that drenched much of the country’s Mediterranean shoreline with tar, joined by thousands of civilian volunteers.

Officials and environmental groups are describing the incident as an ecological disaster that may take years of recovery efforts. Local news and social media has been flooded with photographs of damage to marine life, including the deaths of tar-covered baby turtles. The Nature and Parks Authority is conducting a forensic autopsy to determine if the spill also killed a baby fin whale that washed up on a southern Israeli beach late last week, after oil-based material was found on its 17-meter-long (55ft) body.

Israel is working with European agencies to identify the ship responsible for the spill, which is believed to have occurred on 11 February from about 50 km (21 miles) from the coast. Satellite images and analyzation of tidal movements are helping to narrow the search.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel inspected a beach in Ashdod yesterday. They were accompanied by Ashdod Mayor Dr. Yechiel Lasri, his counterparts from the neighboring cities of Bat Yam and Ashkelon, Tvika Brot and Tomer Glam, respectively; along with Prime Minister’s Office Acting Director General Tzachi Braverman, Environmental Protection Ministry Director General David Yahalomi and the Prime Minister’s Advisor on Environmental Affairs Tal Gilboa.

In a statement obtained by TV7, Prime Minister Netanyahu said it was “heart-warming” and “very impressive” to witness “the exemplary voluntarism of the citizens who came to clean up the beaches” and work by the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Nature Protection Authority,” but that sadly, “There is still much work to do here.”

Environmental Protection Minister Gamliel, who will today submit a budgetary plan for the clean up to the Cabinet, said it is “Our moral obligation to the public is to locate those responsible for the event,” and that every effort is being made to identify the responsible ship.

Adding that “tens of millions of shekels” will be required to recover from the damage (₪ 1 shekel is equivalent to 31 ¢, or $0.31), Minister Gamliel also mentioned the possibility that Israel make seek financial compensation from the guilty party.

Underscoring the “need to look toward the future,” the Israeli Environmental Protection Minister said, “This incident and others like it in the world show us how urgent it is to wean ourselves from polluting fuels and move toward renewable energy.”