חשיפה: מכלית נפט יוונית מינרבה הלן, לכאורה גרמה לאסון הסביבתי הקשה ביותר בהיסטוריה הישראלית
Israel now faces the worst coastal pollution crisis in its history. Massive amounts of oil and tar have washed ashore all the way from the far northern coast to Gaza in the south. No one may enjoy the beaches or swim in the Mediterranean. The damage will last for years and must be cleaned painstakingly by hand. Sea animals have washed ashore coated in slime. Sea turtles have died, along with a whale which washed ashore on the Israeli coast. A necropsy discovered black material in its lungs consistent with the spilled oil.
Until a few hours ago, there was a gag order prohibiting Israeli media from reporting on aspects of the disaster. Just before it was lifted, I broke it tweeting that a foreign ship caused the disaster and authorities sought to suppress this in order to prevent the owners from destroying evidence. Shortly after, the gag was lifted.
The culprit is a Greek oil tanker, the Minerva Helen, which suffered a malfunction causing the massive discharge, befouling the waters. Israeli authorities imposed the gag order so that the ship’s owners would not attempt to destroy evidence. After the accident it returned to port in Alexandria. Later it left port and is now steaming in the western Mediterranean headed to Cartagena, Spain.
אסון הזפת בחופים | אחת החשודות בזיהום – מכלית שנמצאת בבעלות יוונית והייתה מעורבת בעבר באירוע דליפת נפט בקופנהגן. מינרווה: “אנחנו לא המקור לדליפה בישראל”. @Yoav__Zehavi ב-#חדשותהערב pic.twitter.com/kqI8h9VQps
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) February 22, 2021
UPDATE: Israel’s Channel 12 reports that the ship originally left Port Said on or before February 12th, steamed into the Mediterranean and dumped its oil 30 miles off the Israeli coast, outside Israel’s territorial waters. It then returned to Egypt and docked in Alexandria. The question is why did it dump its oil? Did it dump its entire cargo? Or only a portion of it? Did it do so purposely or accidentally? How much oil in total was released? There are rumors in Israel that the oil on the ship was illegal and that this was discovered by authorities. Or that the ship’s owners feared it would be discovered. If the ship dumped its entire load of oil that might support this thesis. If it dumped only a portion of its load that might explain an accident caused by equipment malfunction.
The Israeli government has made an emergency allocation of $10-million for the cleanup. It will also offer local and municipal authorities whose beaches have been damaged $60,000 for every kilometer of affected shoreline. This amounts to a total of $3.6-million for the entire coastline. Given its extent, this seems woefully inadequate. Similar types of past cleanups have cost billions of dollars.
Israel’s Kan TV reveals that the same ship was also involved in an earlier catastrophic leak of 1,300 barrels (55,000 gallons) of oil into Copenhagen harbor in 2008. The ship’s owner, Minerva Marine, released a statement denying responsibility for the disaster.
In all the coverage of this story, I have heard almost no discussion of how to hold the owner of the Minerva Helen responsible for this environmental disaster. The government of Greece has not released any statement. It’s unclear what recourse, if any, Israel has.
Though I am no expert on the inner workings of Israeli government agencies, I don’t see how the Environment Ministry, which is supervising the cleanup. can properly investigate the accident and compel the company to answer a complaint. It is a domestic agency and not equipped to deal with an environmental disaster caused by a foreign company. The only thing Israel has going for it is that Greece and Israel have a common enemy, Turkey. Therefore, the Greek government will be inclined to cooperate with such an investigation. Though I imagine it will do the least possible, while appearing to be responsive.
This incident is also rich in irony. During the 2006 Lebanon War, Israeli military leaders threatened to bomb the country back to the Stone Age. Part of the plan was to attack the oil refineries lining Beirut harbor, which they did with aplomb (Hezbollah had earlier attacked the Haifa port with a missile) . The resulting oil pollution caused an environmental disaster, soiling beaches and seashore throughout the Mediterranean basin for months later. Though environmental groups filed complaints against Israel, there was no international mechanism to hold it accountable and it got away not only with literal murder (of Lebanese civilians) , but the environmental equivalent of gang-rape. Unlike today when thousands of Israelis are volunteering in the effort to clean up the coastline, there was no such outpouring of outrage or volunteerism to redress the Israel-caused disaster. Nor is it likely Israel’s neighbors in Lebanon, Syria or Turkey will feel great sympathy after the catastrophe they suffered at Israel’s hands.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.