Akunis: Threat of oil contamination to Gulf of Eilat eliminated

Earlier this month, some 5 million liters of crude oil spilled out of the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Co

MK Ophir Akunis  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
MK Ophir Akunis
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The threat of oil contamination in the Gulf of Eilat has been eliminated, acting Environmental Protection Minister Ophir Akunis said on Sunday.
Akunis provided a situation report at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, detailing the rehabilitation efforts in the Arava following the catastrophic oil spill and presenting the ministers with new aerial photos of the site.
Earlier this month, some 5 million liters of crude oil spilled out of the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company caused by a breach during maintenance work.
The spill occurred close to the town of Be’er Ora, approximately 20 km.
north of Eilat, and has badly damaged the Evrona Nature Reserve and caused grave concern heavy rains would spread the oil south into the gulf.
“We are in control of the situation and we have successfully dealt with the significant threat that the Gulf of Eilat would be contaminated. The concern about public health is our top priority. Therefore I have ordered that the Evrona Nature Reserve be closed, and that the public be directed to go to the nearby birding site instead. Hundreds of visitors already visited the birding site this past weekend,” Akunis told the cabinet.
He said that in addition to preparing for possible floods and digging dams – which ultimately prevented the spread of the contaminated oil – crews were continuing to pump and extract the remaining oil.
The acting minister said that at next week’s meeting he will present a comprehensive plan for rehabilitation of the affected areas to the cabinet for approval.
The plan, he said, was being formulated by the ministry in cooperation with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) and environmental organizations that all met last Thursday to exchange information to guarantee transparency.
Furthermore, Akunis reported that the ministry’s Green Police have begun a criminal investigation to determine the circumstances that led to the spill, to understand who is responsible and to review the responses of the various agencies involved.
With regards to the wildlife in the region, the acting minister reported that some half-a-billion birds are currently flying over Israel during their migration to Africa for the winter.
These birds have no sense of smell and there is a concern that they will try to drink the oil. As such, the INPA has placed inspectors in the nature reserves in an attempt to prevent the birds from landing near contaminated areas.
In addition, the INPA has been collecting seeds from acacia trees that absorbed oil in order to prevent animals from ingesting the toxic seeds.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the ministry and INPA for their handling of the incident and stressed the importance of doing whatever is necessary to prevent a similar disaster in the future.