Iran intentionally polluted the Mediterranean Sea and Israel’s shores in an act of ecological terrorism, causing the greatest environmental disaster in Israel’s history, Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said on Wednesday.
“This pollution has people who are responsible for it and have to pay the price. Our nature is damaged, our animals are harmed, thanks to merciless environmental criminals,” Gamliel said.
Gamliel explained that, following a two-week investigation, the Environmental Protection Ministry found that the ship that leaked the crude oil, called the Emerald, was owned by a Libyan company and sailed from Iran to Syria. It departed Iran, turning off its automatic identification system (AIS) – which transmits its location to other ships in the area. It turned the AIS on as it went through the Suez Canal, and then off again as it approached Israel’s shores.
The ship remained within tens of kilometers of Israel’s shores, within Israel’s economic waters, for nearly a full day, spilling large amounts of oil on February 1-2, with its AIS off.
Then it continued on to Syria, where it turned on its transmitter, and it returned to Iran, turning off its AIS as it passed Israel. It is currently in Iran.
The tar reached Israeli shores on February 17.
“Now we see Iran is not just terrorizing [Israel] with [attempts at attaining] nuclear weapons and entrenching itself in our region, but also by harming the environment,” Gamliel said. “They’re not just hurting Israel. Nature and animals don’t just belong to one nation. This is a battle that crosses borders.”
Gamliel said that Israel will demand compensation from the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund and the ship’s insurers.
“We will settle the score with the polluters in the name of all Israelis for the harm to our health, nature, animals and view,” she vowed. “We cannot abandon our sea. Our sea is our natural treasure that we must protect.”
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the European Maritime Safety Agency, as well as Israeli maritime research company Windward, helped the Environmental Protection Ministry investigate the oil spill. None of the agencies knew about the oil spill before the tar reached Israeli shores, over two weeks after it occurred.
Samples of the tar, which the Environmental Protection Ministry examined, showed that it came from crude oil, which sharply reduced the number of suspected ships from 35 to four. Two were found to have been too far away, and another was examined by local authorities in Spain and by Israeli investigators in Greece. The fourth is the Emerald, currently in Iran.
European satellites caught the underwater stain on February 5, but it was not noticed before the tar reached Israel’s beaches.
Hagay Hacohen contributed to this report.