Middle East conflict causes massive oil spill

The Israeli bombardment of Lebanon has led to a major oil spill off the coast of the republic and the continuing violence is hindering the clean-up operation.

The Lebanese Environment Ministry says the spill happened between July 13 and 15, when Israeli jets bombed fuel storage tanks at the Jieh power station, south of Beirut.

Estimates put the amount of heavy fuel oil spilled at between 10,000 and 35,0000 tonnes and the Lebanese Government has said that even in peace time it would be ill equipped to deal with a problem on that scale.

Yacoub al-Sarraf, the country’s environment minister told the Arabic news network Aljazeera: “We have never seen a spill like this in the history of Lebanon. It is a major catastrophe.

“The equipment we have is for minor spills. We use it once in a blue moon to clean a small spill of 50 tonnes or so. To clean this whole thing up we would need an armada.”

The environmental outlook for the Lebanese coast has been made even worse by oil leaking from an Israeli warship hit by a Hezbollah missile.

Mr al-Sarraf has called on the EU and UN for urgent help with the clean-up but even with help from Europe’s civil protection mechanism and the United Nations Environment Programme the work will be complicated by Israel’s naval blockade of the Lebanese coastline.

“Wars do cause enormous human suffering as we are witnessing now in Lebanon,” said Stavros Dimas, the EU’s Environment Commissioner.

“But another aspect is also the significant environmental destruction caused by it. The recent oil spill off the coast of Lebanon could affect the livelihood and health of the Lebanese and people in neighbouring countries as well as the status of the marine environment in the region.

“With the help of the MIC, Member States will be able to provide co-ordinated assistance, including experts and specialised materials.”

A stretch of coastline of at least 80km has so far been contaminated by the spill which has affected rocky and sandy public beaches as well as ports and marinas.

The request for assistance includes dispersants, booms, absorbents, skimmers, as well as specialised boats and any other material needed for clean up operations, as well as a list of specialised registered companies which could assist.

Several states have already responded to the request and offers of assistance are being assessed in view of their submission to the Lebanese authorities.

The cost of the clean-up is expected to be in the region of US$40-50 million.

UNEP’s executive director Achim Steiner said: “We stand ready to do all we can as soon as it is possible to carry out this urgent work.

“We share the Lebanese authorities’ concerns over the impact on coastal communities who are being affected by an environmental tragedy which is rapidly taking on a national but also a regional dimension.

“We must also be concerned about the short and long term impacts on the marine environment including the biodiversity upon which so many people depend for their livelihoods and living via tourism and fishing.”

Sam Bond

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