Photo: Tar on the beaches of Israel; Image credit Nature and Parks Authority of Israel

Israel clears Minerva Helen from oil spill links, expands investigation to more ships

A team of investigators led by the Ministry of Environmental Protection of Israel has expanded the investigation into the recent oil spill to dozens of vessels.

Initial estimates indicate that 160 kilometres of Israel’s coastline have been stained by tar as clean-up efforts continue.

As of 23 February 2021, 1,000 m3 of tar balls have already been collected from Israeli beaches, according to the IMO-administered Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC).  

“At the start of the tar event that has plagued Israeli beaches, the ministry identified about 10 ships as potentially suspicious. It has since expanded the investigation to include dozens of vessels. To date, MoEP has inspected about 10 ships, and is continuing to inspect other ships. We will inform the public as the investigation progresses,” the ministry said in an update.

The vessels have been identified with the help of the satellite imagery and Authentication Information System (AIS) data, provided by the EMSA Maritime Support Service.

Separately, one of the first vessels which had been linked to the spill, Minerva Helen, has been cleared from involvement in the incident.

On 21 February 2021, Minerva Helen was named as one of several suspect vessels due to her proximity to Israel, while drifting in the area.

However, the owner of the vessel denied the claims referring to an investigation carried out by the Spanish Port State Control Authorities in Cartagena, which found no deficiencies to the vessel.

The shipowner also insisted that the tanker was not involved in any operation ‘that could be connected to an oil discharge at sea.’

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The investigators from the Israeli ministry inspected the vessel over the weekend in the Port of Piraeus, Greece in cooperation with the Greek Coast Guard.

“In the wake of a thorough, professional, and comprehensive inspection conducted by inspectors from the MoEP and the Israeli Shipping and Ports Authority, the team now says the ship was not the source of the pollution,” the ministry added.

“It should be noted that at no stage did the ministry coordinate with the ship, its owner, or any of its representatives.”

Greek shipowner Minerva Marine welcomed the result of the investigation.

“Minerva Marine expresses its sympathy to all those who have been impacted by this environmental casualty and wishes those involved in the clean-up and recovery operations every success in their critical task,” the company said.

The clean-up efforts of tar blocks from Israeli beaches that continue to wash up remain underway this week as well.