Israel slaps gag order on oil spill probe

Court approves ban on releasing key details including name of vessel believed to have leaked oil into sea off Israeli coast, port of origin and destination; state claims such information could cloud investigation into Israel's worst environmental crisis

Ahiya Raved, Ilana Curiel|
A gag order was issued Monday on the details of the investigation into the massive oil spill that has polluted the majority of Israel’s beaches, at the request of the Environmental Protection Ministry.
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  • The heavy pollution and the subsequent widespread ecological damage that has shut all but two of Israel’s beaches to visitors is believed to have been caused by a massive oil spill from a foreign ship passing close to the coast of Israel last week.
    It is the worst environmental crisis in Israel's history.
    4 View gallery
    מנקים את החוף סמוך לחדרה
    מנקים את החוף סמוך לחדרה
    A volunteer clears tar from the beach at Hareda
    (Photo: Ido Erez)
    Under the terms of the gag order approved by Judge Zaid Falah of Haifa Magistrate's Court, specific details of the investigation such as the name of the vessel believed responsible, its ports of departure and destination, its cargo and route cannot be published due to fears that such information would be used to cloud the investigation.
    Furthermore, the investigation, which is being conducted by the Environmental Protection Ministry, is expected to be a complex one due to the fact it involves a foreign vessel causing pollution in international waters.
    This means that the investigation cannot be carried out by Israel alone.
    4 View gallery
    הזפת שנסחפה לחוף ראש הנקרה
    הזפת שנסחפה לחוף ראש הנקרה
    Tar washed up on Rosh Hanikra beach in northern Israel
    (Photo: Raviv Shapira)
    Before the gag order was issued, the Environmental Protection Ministry cited some 10 vessels that had been identified at the origin of the pollution. Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel even said one of the ships had been inspected at Ashdod port and ruled out as the perpetrator.
    Gamliel also said that the ministry was looking into the possibility that the pollution had been caused maliciously.
    “They either spilled the oil from the ship into the water or a malfunction occurred and they did not report it," said Gamliel.
    "Finding those responsible for the disaster is a complicated process, but we will do everything in our power to t those culpable.”
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    דגים מתים מזיהום בחוף אשדוד
    דגים מתים מזיהום בחוף אשדוד
    Dead fish wash up on Ashdod beach after the massive oil spill off Israel's coast
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Several environmental organizations have criticized the gag order, saying the details of the investigation were in the public interest.
    "Hiding all issues related to the investigation of the tar disaster is a fatal blow to public confidence in the government and regulators who are supposed to ensure the safety of the public and the environment,” said the Adam Teva V'Din organization, which seeks to put environmental protection on the country's political map.
    “When it comes to a disaster of this magnitude, transparency and the provision of information to the public is critical and enshrined in law and has precedence.”
    The organization also said it was looking into the legal avenues to appeal the gas order.
    The Zalul organization, which seeks to preserve Israel’s beaches, accused the authorities of covering up the details of the probe for the benefit of oil companies.
    4 View gallery
    צב שנפגע מזפת
    צב שנפגע מזפת
    A sea turtle covered in tar is rescued from one of Israel's now polluted beaches
    (Photo: Israel Nature and Parks Authority)
    "When the elements who create a risk of marine pollution are rich and influential oil and shipping companies, Zalul is there to demand a transparent investigation and that the gag order be lifted immediately," the organization said.
    Thousands of volunteers and IDF soldiers are working to clean up the pollution that has hit almost every beach in Israel.
    In light of many requests from the general public to assist in the beach cleanup, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority has set up an online registration page (in Hebrew) where groups can sign up.
    Individual volunteers are asked to simply turn up at one of the following sites between 8am and 4pm:
    • Achziv National Park
    • Tel Dor National Park
    • Habonim Beach Nature Reserve
    • Shikmona Research Station
    • Jisr az-Zarqa fishing village
    • Nahal Oren estuary
    • Gador Beach
    • Beit Yanai Beach
    • Poleg Nature Reserve
    • Sharon Beach
    • Palmachim Beach National Park
    • Be'er Sheva Beach in Ashdod
    • Nitzanim Beach
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