The Geneva-based Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) has received a fine of NIS 1.01 million – the largest fine ever charged to a ship on Israeli waters – after a detrimental oil spill hit the Haifa seaport area in December, the Environmental Protection Ministry told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

Haifa Magistrate Court Justice Daniel Fish imposed the penalty on the company on October 10, convicting it of spilling oil into the sea and disturbing the public domain under severe circumstances, the ministry said in a Sunday statement. The ship, called MSC PERLE, was docked in the Haifa port making preparations to empty its ballast water (water in the hull that maintains ship stability) when tens of tons of heavy fuel oil spilled out into the sea, creating environmental and property damage still visible for weeks following the incident, according to the statement.

Immediately after, the Environment Ministry filed an indictment against the company, as well as the ship captain and chief engineer.

“To be precise, this is the highest fine that a ship ever received in Israeli waters. This is the biggest one,” Rani Amir, head of the ministry’s marine and coastal division, told the Post of the December 19 incident.

The closest fine to the NIS 1.01 million sum was NIS 650,00, which was charged to Florealis Shipping after a vessel spilled around 15 tons of oil in the Eilat bay in September 2000, according to Amir.

While the exact amount of oil spilled this December is difficult to calculate, based on the mass balance left inside the ship, Amir said the ministry estimated that about 30-40 tons were lost this time. Such cases are very complicated to clean up and can often take many months or years to eliminate the polluting substance from the water, he added.

“In this case, we are done,” Amir said.

Although the fine withstood in the judge’s ruling, the indictments against the two specific individuals were dropped in a plea bargain, with the understanding that they will be required to answer for their conduct in the framework of internal company proceedings, according to the ministry. Amir said he expected that MSC would be fully cooperative with the ruling.

A representative from the Haifa branch of MSC told the Post that his office could not comment on the issue, as the fine was levied against the international umbrella organization in Geneva. While the Post attempted to contact the appropriate source there, the Swiss headquarters were closed for business on Sunday.

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