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

Israel says it identified tanker responsible for oil spill

Israel has identified the crude oil tanker that polluted its shores with blocks of tar following an oil spill, the country’s Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said.

According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the ship in question is a Libyan-owned ship that was carrying cargo from Iran to Syria named Emerald.

The findings from the ministry indicate that the ship is 19 years old, and cannot therefore be received at European or U.S. ports. It was carrying 112,000 tons of crude oil.

It is believed that the oil spill occurred between February 1st and 2nd, within dozens of kilometers of the Israeli coastline, in Israel’s economic waters.

“It (the crude oil tanker) was illegally carrying cargo from Iran to Syria. The ship was flying Panama’s flag,” Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said, accusing Iran of waging terrorism by harming the environment.

The vessel is being named after an intensive two-week investigation led by the Israeli authorities with assistance from international bodies.

Tracking of the culprit was done with satellite imagery and automatic identification system (AIS) data, helping narrow down the list from the initial 34 suspects to 4 tankers.

The ministry said that two tankers were ultimately excluded due to their location in the days before the incident. Another tanker, Minerva Helen, was inspected in Spain and in Greece and was ruled out as a source of contamination.

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The fourth tanker, now in Iran, is the Emerald, which has been identified as the likely source of the oil spill.

“The tanker was “dark” when it left the Iranian region, meaning its AIS was turned off. Before reaching the Suez Canal, the tanker’s equipment was turned on, and it crossed the canal in Egyptian territory. Then, it went dark again before entering Israel’s economic waters,” the statement from the ministry reads.

The ship is believed to have spilled the crude oil while in motion and with its equipment turned off. When it reached Syrian territory, it once again turned on its devices.

As informed, between February 3rd and 14th, the tanker unloaded all the crude oil it was carrying onto other vessels.

During this period of time, satellites reportedly discovered two more stains between Cyprus and Syria, in the area the ship had sailed.

On its journey back to Iran, the vessel allegedly turned “dark” again when it entered Israel’s economic waters, and stayed that way until it reached a port in Iran, where it is currently anchored.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Shipping and Ports Authority said they plan to contact Emerald’s insurers to ensure compensation from the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds is paid for the pollution.

“Together, we will bring to justice those responsible for the environmental terrorism, those who committed this crime against humanity. We will continue to rehabilitate the damaged beaches and the animals that were harmed,” Gamliel added.