Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel walk on Ashdod beach on February 21, 2021, after an offshore tar spill caused damage along Israel’s Mediterranean coast (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Israeli - Two years since major coastal tar spill, marine unit still waiting for extra funds

Prime minister visited spill site, a ministerial committee made recommendations – but in terms of preparedness for a future spill, nothing has actually changed

Two years have passed since Israel’s coastline was devastated by tar from an oil spill at sea, but the Environmental Protection Ministry says it has yet to see any of the promised money to prepare better for the next marine disaster.

With no satellite or other robust civilian monitoring, Israel was taken by surprise on February 18, 2021, when tar began washing onto its Mediterranean coastline, following stormy weather.

During the following days, it became clear that beaches from Rosh Hanikra in the far north to Nitzanim in the south had been contaminated, leaving globs of tar all over the sand and shallows and dead or badly injured wildlife.

In the immediate wake of the leak, the sale of Mediterranean fish was temporarily suspended and beaches were closed.

Thousands of volunteers rallied over a period of many days to help clean up 1,400 tons of the tar, which was later traced to a leak at sea from a 19-year-old, Syrian-owned ship that was not insured.

The cleanup operation, which was to last a year in total, dominated the headlines for days.

Then-environmental protection minister Gila Gamliel toured the damage with then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

A special committee of ministry directors-general was established to investigate how best to deal with maritime disaster scenarios and better prepare for their prevention in the future.

The government approved an emergency NIS 45 million (then worth $13.8 million), most of which went to the local authorities, which are directly responsible for all beaches except those administered by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

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