Lebanese Oil Spill: First Experts to Reach Syria

But No Clean-Up Action Possible Yet

Biodiversity at Great Risk

Nairobi/Athens, 8 August 2006 - First steps towards action on the ground were initiated today with the arrival in Syria of two UN experts to evaluate the consequences of the oil spill that has already polluted over 140 kilometres of the Lebanese coastline and has spread north into Syrian waters. At this stage the information however remains sketchy and no clean-up action has been possible.

“While I fully understand the complexity and political implications, many are appalled that, more than three weeks into this crisis, there has been no on-the-ground assessment to support the Lebanese Government, no moves possible towards a clean-up, and indeed few practical measures to contain the further spread of the slick”, said Achim Steiner, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The quantity of oil spilled in Lebanon is already comparable to the disaster caused in 1999 off the coast of France when the Erika tanker spilled an estimated 13,000 metric tonnes of oil into the Atlantic Ocean. In the worst case scenario, and if all the oil contained in the bombed power plant at Jiyyeh leaked into the Mediterranean Sea, the Lebanese oil spill could well rival the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989 (see UNEP chart attached).

“We are dealing with a very serious incident and any practical steps are still constrained by the continuation of hostilities. We are glad that two of our experts will now be able to provide advice from Damascus, even though much more is needed”, said Mr. Steiner.

“The clean-up operations will require intense cooperation between international actors and the Governments of the Mediterranean region. Our Joint UNEP-OCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) Environment Unit is committed to working with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) as well as the European Commission (EC) to create the conditions under which remedial action can be taken”, he added.

Announcing the dispatch of a marine biologist to Syria, the Coordinator of the Athens –based UNEP/MAP (Mediterranean Action Plan), Paul Mifsud, said for his part: “The Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre (REMPEC), one of MAP’s regional activity centres, has sent an expert to provide visual documentation and to validate through a field assessment what was shown in the satellite imagery and models.”

Marine species such as sea turtles and Bluefin tuna are feared to have been affected by the oil spill. According to the information received by UNEP/MAP, there is a spawning area for Bluefin tuna in the Eastern Mediterranean. Following its reproductive season between May and July, at this time of the year tuna’s eggs and larvae float on the water surface and may well have suffered the consequences of the oil pollution.

“This oil slick definitely poses a threat to biodiversity”, said Ezio Amato, the biology expert at ICRAM (Istituto Centrale per la Ricerca scientifica e tecnologica Applicata al Mare), a research institute cooperating with UNEP/MAP, who is expected to arrive in Syria later today. “Because tuna’s eggs and larvae float on the water surface, they can be directly affected by this oil slick, with potential serious consequences for the tuna population in the Mediterranean”, he said.

In Damascus, Mr. Amato will join another specialist from the Joint UNEP-OCHA Environment Unit, who is traveling to the region from Geneva to coordinate the emerging efforts on the ground.

In a letter addressed to UNEP-MAP in Athens on 4 August, the Syrian Minister of Local Administration and Environment Mr Helal Al-Atrash confirmed that the oil spill had reached the Syrian coastline from Al-Aridah area to Al-Nauras, and asked UNEP-MAP “to send professional companies to control the spilled oil on the shoreline and territorial waters”.

Following a request of support to the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention, REMPEC has already received replies from ten entities offering assistance: Algeria, Cyprus, the European Commission, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain, and Syria.

Notes to Editors:

Satellite images can be downloaded from the following website:

http://www.zki.dlr.de/applications/2006/lebanon/lebanon_2006_en.html

As far as movement of any possible oil slick at sea is concerned, MAP/REMPEC is obtaining satellite images from several sources. However, the initial results and the satellite images currently available should only be considered as an indication at this stage.

The Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC) is one of the MAP Regional Activities Centres and is based in Malta. It is jointly administered by the UN International Maritime Organization and UNEP-MAP. For further information please contact Luisa Colasimone, UNEP/MAP, +30 6 949 122 746

REMPEC helps Mediterranean coastal states build up their national prevention and response capabilities to be prepared for major marine pollution incidents, in accordance with Article 10 of the 1976 Emergency Protocol, and Article 12 of 2002 Prevention and Emergency Protocol of the Barcelona Convention..

The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean – also known as the Barcelona Convention - is the legal framework for the implementation of the Mediterranean Action Plan with a Secretariat based in Athens.

The Barcelona Convention was adopted by the Mediterranean Countries and the European Community in 1976 in order to coordinate their activities and take all appropriate measures to prevent, abate combat and eliminate pollution of the Mediterranean Sea and enhance the marine and coastal environment so as to contribute towards sustainable development.

For More Information Please Contact

Luisa Colasimone, Information Officer UNEP-MAP, Tel. +30 210 7273 148, E-mail: luisa.colasimone@unepmap.gr

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, Tel: +254 20 762 3084; Mobile: +254 (0)733 632 755,

E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

Or Elisabeth Waechter, UNEP Associate Media Officer, on Tel: +254 20

7623088, E-mail: elisabeth.waechter@unep.org

UNEP News Release 2006/40


 

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