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Israel Environment & Nature: National Contingency Plan for Combating Marine Oil Pollution

(May 2008)

On May 18, 2008, the Ministerial Environment Committee, headed by Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra, decided to adopt Minister Ezra’s proposal for a National Contingency Plan for Preparedness and Response to Combating Marine Oil Pollution.

Israel has 185 km of coasts on the Mediterranean Sea and some 14 km in the Gulf of Eilat. Oil tankers unload some 12 million tons of liquid oil per year in fuel terminals along the Mediterranean and Eilat coastlines. Another 2 million tons of oil a year are exported each year through Israel’s fuel terminals. According to the Marine and Coastal Environment Division of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, a severe oil spill will undoubtedly cause major environmental and economic damages in Israel.

Experience worldwide shows that hundreds of maritime accidents cause severe pollution of the sea and coast. Despite precautionary and preventative measures, it is impossible to totally prevent accidents and pollution, and therefore top priority must be accorded to proper preparedness, taking account of both temporal and spatial dimensions. If the oil spill is treated as near to the source of the incident as possible and as promptly as possible, using the least destructive means possible, the attendant environmental and economic damage will be minimized.

In recognition of the serious threat posed to the marine and coastal environment by oil pollution incidents, Israel prepared and adopted a contingency plan for preparedness and response that aims to assure prompt and effective action to minimize the damage which may result from major oil spills.

More on Israel’s Contingency Plan

According to Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra, the National Contingency Plan for Preparedness and Response to Combating Marine Oil Pollution is an organizational and administrative framework which unites and coordinates the different participants who respond to a marine and coastal pollution incident along Israel’s Mediterranean and Gulf of Eilat coasts.

The objective of the plan is to define a three-tier system for preparedness and response to marine pollution incidents by oil, including the mapping of sensitivity sections along the coast, risk scenarios for marine pollution, policy for combating a marine pollution incidents, specification of methods and means for combating a severe marine pollution incident and more.

The contingency plan was prepared by professionals in the Ministry of Environmental Protection in collaboration with an interministerial steering committee. According to Minister Ezra, significant progress has been achieved in equipping and preparing Israel’s relevant bodies for combating marine pollution, but in order to be fully prepared, the State of Israel must allocate additional human resources and financial resources. For this reason, the approval of the plan by the government is especially significant.

Furthermore, Israel was obligated to approve such a contingency plan both internationally in accordance with the Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation (OPRC), which was adopted in 1990, and nationally in accordance with a government decision dating back to 1998.

Minister Ezra intends to incorporate the contingency plan and its guidelines in primary legislation.

Oil Spills in the Mediterranean Sea

The risk of a severe pollution incident in the Mediterranean Sea in general and in its eastern basin, in particular, is especially high since about 30% of the global marine trade and some 20% of the global volume of marine fuel transport traverses the Mediterranean Sea.

Following are some examples of major oil spill incidents in Israel in recent years:

In February 2005, due to a collision between a ship and a tanker near the Nile Delta in Egypt, Israel’s coastlines were flooded by tar from the south to the center. However, since the tar quantities were not great and sea and weather conditions were moderate, marine and coastal pollution was also minimal. Under different circumstances, such an incident could have led to much more severe pollution.

In September 2007, the coasts of Kiryat Haim were polluted by oil from a collision and subsequent sinking of the cargo vessel “Shelley.” 

The Marine and Coastal Division of the Ministry of Environmental Protection in cooperation with the Haifa Municipality combated the oil spill and restored the coast to its previous state using biological treatment.

Marine pollution costs may also be very costly as evidenced by the following examples:

The damage caused by the oil spill due to the sinking of the “Erica” near the coasts of France in January 2000 totaled more than 180 million euro.

The cost of legal suits relating to pollution damages from the “Prestige” oil spill in November 2002 near the Spanish coasts surpassed 950 million euro.

In May 2007, the US Court for Appeals set a punitive damages award stemming from the Exxon Valdez oil spill of March 1989 in Alaska at $2.5 billion dollars.

Sources: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs