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According to the Environment Ministry, stains off the coast of Israel are not oil spillage.

According to the Environment Ministry, stains off the coast of Israel are not oil spillage.

Wednesday afternoon, the Environmental Protection Ministry announced that it had not detected oil in a suspicious stain off Israel’s coast but that it would continue monitoring the situation.

“The findings in the field at this time, which ruled out the presence of oil or its derivatives, were presented in the assessment of the situation,” said the ministry, leading to a decision by Environment Minister Tamar Zandberg to shut down what had previously been designated a “tier-3” national incident.

Zandberg stated that all ships and other vessels involved in investigating the incident will be returned to shore. However the situation will be continuously monitored and inspectors will be deployed along the coast Thursday.

“Throughout the day and in intensive scans at sea, so far no findings have been found indicating oil pollution at sea,” she said in a statement. “However, we will continue to be vigilant… we are careful and prepare for the worst, and yet hope for the best.”

Zandberg stated that it would take several days to complete all lab tests on the affected seawater.

The R/V Bat-Galim deep-sea exploration ship, jointly operated and owned by the ministry and Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute (IOLRI), took samples on Wednesday and sprayed dispersants in the water.

Tamar Zandberg, Environment Minister, visits a Haifa situation room on February 2, 2022 to check on a suspected oil spillage off the coast. (Environment Ministry)

“Suspicious stains” on the surface of the sea 20 to 40 kilometers (12-24 miles) from the shore along a stretch of coast between the central cities of Rishon Lezion and Netanya were first discovered late Tuesday evening.

Zandberg at the time warned that the oil leak could become a major regional or national polluting incident.

On Wednesday evening, the minister said she was glad she had acted “quickly and treated the event as a national incident,” despite ultimately ruling out the danger of an oil spill. She praised the cooperation between the ministry and the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police, Nature and Parks Authority, and a number of environmental nonprofits and the private sector.

“We received many inquiries from volunteers who already wanted to get to the beaches and were prepared for cleaning,” said Zandberg. “Fortunately, this time we did not need their help, but it warms my heart to see the spirit of volunteering.”

This incident happened almost exactly one year ago, after the country had suffered one of its worst natural disasters.

After an oil spillage off the Israeli coast, soldiers clean the tar from Palmachim Beach. This was February 22, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)`

Israel was taken by surprise when huge amounts of tar and the corpse of a fin-whale, which measured 17 meters (55ft) in length, began to wash onto its coasts after an oil spillage in stormy weather on February 18, 2021.

Over the following days, it became clear that beaches all along Israel’s Mediterranean coast had been contaminated and that wildlife had paid a heavy price.

The sale of Mediterranean fish was temporarily suspended in the wake of the leak. Beaches were also closed. Volunteers rallied in thousands to assist with the cleanup. It remains to be seen how long-term the damage to ecosystems will last.

Climate Crisis and Responsible Journalism

As The Times of Israel’s Environment Reporter, I try to communicate the science and facts behind climate change and environmental degrading, to explain and critique the official policies that affect our future, and to discuss Israeli technologies that could be part of the solution.

I am passionate about the environment and disappointed by the lack of awareness shown by politicians and the public in Israel regarding environmental issues.

I am proud to do my part to keep Times of Israel readers informed about this important topic – which can and will effect policy change.

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Sue Surkes, Environment Reporter

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