Despite the lack of an official contingency plan to deal with an offshore environmental disaster, the Environmental Protection Ministry held a drill simulating a large oil spill off the shores of Israel.
The exercise, held last week, saw the ministry team with the Israeli Navy, the Israel Natural Parks Service, the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC) and local authorities.
Environmental groups have repeatedly warned that Israel is grossly ill-prepared for the possibility of a massive oil leak, which may occur as a result of a malfunction in one of the oil rigs located off Israel's shores.
The drill (Photo: Hila Spack)
The drill was held against the backdrop of an appeal by the Environmental Ministry's director-general to her counterpart in the Interior Ministry, to refrain from granting any new exploration permits, pending the formulation of a national maritime disaster contingency plan.
The wide-scale exercise, which was directed from a special command and control center set up in Eilat, simulated an oil leak in the waters of the Red Sea – an area famous for its coral reef – and included containment teams operation on the ground, in the water and in the air.
Eli Verburg, head of Eilat's Marine Pollution Prevention Station said that "The exercise simulates a scenario in which an accident at sea has caused substantial amounts of oil, some 80 tons, to spill into the water."
Oz Goren of the Pollution Prevention Station added: "We had 10 boats and a helicopter participate in the drill… They deployed a special pipe in the water, meant to cordon off the oil spill and prevent it from spreading.
"We then pumped the spill out of the water using a special vessel, which in turn transferred the oil to special containers," he said.
According to Verburg, an oil spill's most prominent risk is that "If it reaches the shore and covers it, it will cause irrevocable damage to the beach… Eilat is a resort town and such a spill could cripple its economy.
"It takes millions, billions sometime, to rehabilitate a beach – if it can be rehabilitated at all," he said.
The Society for Protection of Nature in Israel issued a statement urging the State to "Take responsibility for its maritime resources and promote the (disaster) contingency plan. The State must allocate the proper budgets to protect the ocean," it said.