Mystery ship suspected in 100-mile Israeli coastline contamination

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Israelis standing around a 17-meter long fin whale washed ashore near the city of Ashkelon, Feb. 19, 2021. (Flash90/Yossi Aloni)

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Israel is facing its worst ecological disaster in decades as an apparent tar dump from a vessel off the coastline has wreaked havoc upon the country’s sea life and beaches.

From Israel’s northernmost beach at Rosh HaNikra to the southern port city of Ashkelon, Israeli shores stretching 100 miles have been blackened by tar.

“What we are seeing today is one of the worst pollution disasters we have ever known in Israel, said Shaul Goldstein, head of the Nature and Parks Authority.

Dead marine animals, including turtles and a 17 meter (55 foot) baby whale, have washed ashore, indicating a serious disaster.

“The greatest fear is that there is a lot more tar in the sea right now that is poisoning wildlife and still hasn’t reached us,” Dr. Dor Adelist, a marine scientist, told Walla News.

Scores of volunteers turned up on Israel’s beaches over the weekend to help clear the tar, but the Israel Nature and Parks Authority warned the public to stop clean-up efforts after several people fell ill and were hospitalized after breathing in toxic fumes.

The Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi agreed on Sunday to send thousands of IDF soldiers to assist the Nature and Parks Authority in mapping the areas which were affected by the tar contamination, cleaning the beaches, and disposing of the garbage in a designated area.

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel in a statement, “This is a hazard of a magnitude we have not seen in years.”

“We are doing everything in order to find those responsible for the destruction, and are preparing for the difficult and long task of rehabilitating the beaches and preventing further injury to animals.”

Gamliel said the Environmental Protection Ministry was in contact with international bodies to identify and hold the ship responsible for the spill accountable.

Adding that the incident is “heartbreaking” and a “crime against the environment and ecosystem,” Gamliel explained that Israel is using AI-driven models of sea movement and satellite imaging to track the source of the spill.

The Environmental Protection Ministry has identified 10 vessels that sailed through the Mediterranean Sea during the time frame and location at which the spill is believed to have happened.

The agency is in contact with its international counterparts to audit the ships and determine which one is the culprit.

“Justice will be done,” said Gamliel.