The Environmental Protection Ministry issued a bill on Monday to regulate preparedness and response routines for coping with marine and beach-side oil spills.

If passed, the bill would obligate all authorities that have stretches of beach or sea within their jurisdictions – such as local authorities, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, ports, factories, security installations and oil and gas exploration and extraction stations – to prepare plans for handling incidents of sea and coastal contamination by oil, as well as provisions for coping with the aftermath of such events. A relevant body that fails to organize such a system and neglects to take action in a timely manner after such a spill will be subject to fines of up to NIS 452,000 or a year of imprisonment for site administrators, the ministry said.

In particular, the respective companies’ and authorities’ plans must contain details as to how the various bodies will prepare for such incidents, including equipment allocation, contaminated sand treatment, analyses of waste protocols and other methods of handling the event, according the Environmental Protection Ministry. Each individual plan must be updated every five years.

As part of building a national preparedness system for sea pollution, the Environmental Protection Ministry will be equipping itself with two ships to combat sea pollution and a control vessel, and will be establishing two sea pollution prevention stations in Haifa and Ashkelon, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, the office will be setting aside 10 percent of its Fund for the Prevention of Seawater Pollution By Oil for managing oil spill situations in which either the polluter is unknown or it is impossible to collect the compensatory funds due to insolvency.

The fines will vary according to the gravity of the violation and will range from NIS 25,000 to NIS 50,000 for individuals and NIS 200,000 to NIS 400,000 for corporations. In particularly severe cases, the infringement could be deemed a criminal offense, such as failure to submit a plan entirely or to implement training activities, which could cost an individual half a year in jail or NIS 75,000 fine and NIS 125,00 for a corporation, according to the ministry. If the responsible body fails to take any action whatsoever to stop or prevent the spread of a polluting incident, an individual could face imprisonment or an NIS 226,000 fine and NIS 452,000 for a corporation.

“For the first time, we are building a system that will enable coping with difficult incidents of marine pollution,” said Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan in a statement released by his office.

“We cannot continue to sit back idly in hopes that nothing will happen. We must recognize that Israel’s maritime territory has become a ‘tumultuous road’ for freighters, and it is necessary to be prepared in the event of pollution in order to prevent environmental disasters, as has already occurred in other countries.”

Israel has a particularly high risk of sea and coastal contamination events, as about 30% of global marine trade occurs through the Mediterranean, according to the ministry. Freighters transport about 360 million tons of oil across the Mediterranean each year, and at any given moment, there are about 2,000 merchant ships in the sea. Meanwhile, about 60 maritime accidents occur per year and thus pollute the sea with oil.

While it is impossible to completely prevent sea accidents and oil contamination from occurring, the bill intends to provide an array of measures that will minimize damages during any given event, and thereby reduce the resultant environmental and economic damage, the ministry said.

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