In July 2006, during renewed conflict between Israel and the Lebanon, Israeli bombers hit a power plant at Jiyeh, south of Beirut, and vast quantities of heavy fuel oil escaped from damaged tanks into the sea.
The Lebanon had no experience of this type of ecological disaster, which was a potential threat to the whole eastern Mediterranean, and called for international aid. Funding, expertise and specialized equipment came promptly from all over the world, but continued Israeli bombing and a naval blockade prevented immediate assessment or treatment of the damage. For nearly a month a 10 km (6 mi) wide oil slick drifted with the tides and not only continued to pollute the Lebanese coast but also threatened to spread to Turkey, Cyprus and beyond.
The spillage was estimated at around 30,000 tons. Beaches and harbors along a third of the Lebanese coast were smothered in thick black sludge and the sea was transmuted from limpid blue to an evil-smelling pitch-black brew. Underwater surveys revealed that oil sediment had sunk onto the seabed. The United Nations Environmental Program expressed grave concern about the potential environmental and economic effects of the spill. Hundreds of thousands of fish, including spawning tuna, were contaminated, as were the endangered green turtles of the Mediterranean and hundreds of thousands of birds.
A coalition of environmental groups worked on clearing land and sea and on a waste-management project to remove and safely dispose of the contaminating sludge. In August 2009 a UN report recommended the establishment of a fund to provide assistance and support for eastern Mediterranean countries affected by similar events in the future.
When: July 14-15 2006
Where: Jiyeh, Lebanon
Toll: Incalculable effect on eastern Mediterranean fish stocks and bird life
You should know: After the spill, an overwhelming majority in the UN General Assembly passed a resolution that Israel should contribute to the cost of the clean-up. Israel refused, citing as a defense its own ‘ecological disasters’ from Hezbollah shelling.