Press Releases August 2006 - Clean Up Strategy for Oiled Lebanese Coast Given Green Light - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
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Clean Up Strategy for Oiled Lebanese Coast Given Green Light

IMO and UNEP Meeting Backs Euro 50 Million Anti-Pollution Action Plan

Athens, 17 August 2006 - An action plan to assist the authorities in Lebanon with the clean up of coastal oil pollution and to prevent any damage to neighbouring countries was agreed today at an international meeting convened by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Athens, Greece.

United Nations officials and experts, along with countries in the region and the European Commission, backed a plan aimed at dealing with an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 tonnes of fuel oil that seeped into the Mediterranean Sea from a damaged power utility 30km south of Beirut.

The pollution, triggered by bombs striking the facility between 13 and 15 July, is estimated to have affected 150km of coastline with some oil reaching as far north as Syria.

The International Assistance Action Plan has been prepared by the Experts Working Group for Lebanon under the supervision of the UNEP-MAP’s Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC) and the Minister of the Environment of Lebanon.

REMPEC is administered by the UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) and is one of UNEP-MAP regional activity centres under the Barcelona Convention..

Achim Steiner, UNEP’s Executive Director who attended the event hosted by the Greek Mercantile Ministry in Piraeus, said:” Firstly our thoughts are with the people on all sides of this conflict who have suffered over the past few weeks. It is an absolute priority that every effort is made to bring the humanitarian assistance so urgently needed”.

“However, it is also a sad fact that the environment—so vividly underlined by the oil slick and the blackened, damaged coastline—is also a victim with all the repercussions for livelihoods, human health, economic development, ecosystems, fisheries, tourism and rare and endangered wildlife,” he said.

“Now the bombs have stopped and the guns have been silenced we have a chance to rapidly assess the true magnitude of the problem and finally mobilize the support for an oil clean-up and a restoration of the coastline. The experts are on standby and today the international community have agreed on an action plan. I sincerely hope we have secured the financial backing to swiftly and comprehensively deliver on this promise to the Lebanese people, on this request to the UN for assistance from the Lebanese authorities,” he added.

Efthimios Mitropoulos, Secretary-General of the IMO, said: ”I am delighted that we have been able to agree on this action plan which now sets the stage for the wide-ranging assistance the Lebanese , and to a lesser extent the Syrian, authorities so urgently need”.

“While IMO’s traditional role is dealing with shipping and the aftermath of a ship or tanker accident, we have in international law a sound basis for being part of the response through such conventions as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation. I sincerely hope that the damage to the environment is contained to the current level and that other Mediterranean Sea countries do not suffer as a result of the oil spill, also that we can all learn a lot from this tragic incident and take these lessons forward so we are better prepared in the future,” he added.

Stavros Dimas, the Commissioner in charge of the environment and civil protection in the European Commission, said: “The recent oil spill off the coast of Lebanon may affect the livelihood, health and future prospect of Lebanon and the surrounding countries. With the help of the Commission's civil protection mechanism, Member States of the European Union have been able to provide coordinated assistance, including experts and specialized materials”.

“The cessation of the hostilities will create the conditions for engaging the support of the international community in a consistent and coordinated manner. It is my hope that the agreement of this common action plan will step by step take over the first response by the civil protection mechanism of the European Commission,” he said.

Mr Dimas added: “The Commission also anticipates, subject to formal approval, to provide a Euro 10 million complement to the 2006 financing package to Lebanon for technical assistance in the upcoming reconstruction process, with a particular emphasis on infrastructures and environment sectors.”

Clean Up Costs

The experts (please see notes to editors), drawn from across the United Nations, research centres, non governmental organizations and the private sector, estimate the initial mobilization of Euros 50 million for the clean up with possibly more funds needed in 2007.

The estimate is partly based on the costs linked with the clean up of the Haven oil tanker incident of 1991. This led to a spill of 10,000 to 20,000 tonnes of crude oil close to the Genoa, Italian coast. During the Haven incident numerous areas of the Italian Liguria and French Provence coasts were contaminated.

Priority Actions-Short Term

Computer models indicate that close to 20 per cent of the oil has probably evaporated, that close to 80 per cent is likely to be now on the coastline with around 0.25 per cent or approximately 40 tonnes remaining at sea.

However satellite images, backed by eye witness accounts from organizations like IUCN-the World Conservation Union, suggest that in reality larger amounts may remain at sea.

The Action Plan recommends that immediate, helicopter-based aerial surveys with a trained independent observer, be conducted to resolve the issue.

The Plan also calls for a “permanent on-site advisory force” of up to three pollution response specialists. They will assist in site surveys and act as an advisory team to the Lebanese Ministry of the Environment.

Several countries have offered clean up and oil containment equipment. “Ideally, each donor providing equipment should make available one or several specialists to demonstrate and train local staff in equipment use,” says the Plan.

The report flags up concern surrounding, on the one hand, inadequate cleaning and on the other hand over-cleaning of contaminated sites. Experience from previous oil spills indicates that either can cause more harm than good.

The Plan recommends that Lebanese staff acting as “site operation supervisors” are given three to four days of training in state of the art fine cleaning management in Lebanon or a country close by such as Cyprus.

Other short term priority actions include:-

• Recovery of mobile oil in ports, confined areas, economic or social strategic sites and heavily polluted sites—seven sites with high priority have been identified by the Lebanese authorities with a further 13 classed as “secondary priority”.

• A clear approach on the transport, disposal, storage and incineration of recovered waste from the clean up.

• Further testing of oil samples to see if they may contain Persistent Organic Pollutants like Polychlorinated Bi-Phenols (PCBs) given that the oil originated from a power station.

Medium Term

The report suggests that tackling all polluted sites at the same time will be impossible. It proposes that a workforce of 300 people could tackle up to 30 sites simultaneously and recommends that floating or ‘mobile’ oil in places like ports and harbours be tackled first.

Protection of still-not-contaminated, sensitive areas—for example nesting areas for birds and endangered species like turtles, World Heritage sites and tourist locations-- and the cleaning of contaminated areas should be undertaken.

The Plan acknowledges that time is and will continue to have an impact on the clean up. Oil at sea will become increasingly fragmented and difficult to collect and oil on shore will progressively ‘emulsify’, becoming more viscous and difficult to recover as it mixes in with sediments and sand.

The experts say that a range of equipment will be likely needed to deal with the various stages of contamination and different affected sites-- from contaminated tourist and beach locations up to boats, contaminated ports and habours.

The Lebanese authorities are currently deploying vacuum trucks and pumps at some sites. The report points out that this kind of equipment is generally only suitable for mobile low viscosity oils.

The Plan points to a “continually evolving scenario demanding a move, for example, from vacuum trucks and pumps to mechanical grabs as the oil become more viscous”.

It suggests looking into the possibility that some of the liquid oil collected could be burnt at refineries and that ‘lightly oiled” sediments could be recycled in road and public works construction after being neutralized with, for example, quicklime.

Long Term

When most of the clean up has been achieved, the full consequences of the incident should be assessed and any lessons learnt used to improve the preparedness of the Lebanese authorities in the event of future oil spills.

Notes to Editors

The International Assistance Action Plan has been prepared by the Experts Working Group for Lebanon and supervised by the IMO/UNEP Regional Marine Pollution Emergency response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC)

Members include the joint UNEP/Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs environment unit; the European Commission Monitoring Information Centre; the International Tanker Owner Petroleum Federation; the United Nations Development Programme; ICRAM- Istituto Centrale per la Ricerca Scientifica e Tecnologica Applicata al Mare; the Oceanography Centre-University of Cyprus and CEDRE- the Centre de Documentation, de Recherche et d'Expérimentations sur les Pollutions Accidentelles des Eaux.

For More Information Please Contact Luisa Colasimone, Information Officer, UNEP-MAP Mediterranean Action Plan, on Tel: +30 210 7273 148, Mobile: +30 69 49 122746 or E-mail:

or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, on Tel: +254 20 7623084, Mobile: +254 733 632755, E-mail:

or Lee Adamson, Head, Public Information Service, IMO, on Tel:+44 207 587 3153, E-mail




Further Resources

The Crisis in Lebanon - Environmental Impact
UNEP Dossier

International Maritime Organization (IMO)

Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Center for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC)

Mediterranean Action Plan

UNEP/OCHA Environmental Emergencies Section

Istituto Centrale per la Ricerca scientifica e tecnologica Applicata al Mare

UNEP Regional Seas Programme

Lebanese Oil Spill: First Experts to Reach Syria
UNEP Press Release (8 August 2006)

First Satellite Imagery Shows that Oil Spill Reaches Syrian Coastline
UNEP Press Release (2 August 2006)

European Commission

Comparison of the oil spill in Lebanon with other selected oil spills

European Commission
Messages from Civil Protection Co-operation Mechanism - Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC)

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants(POPs)


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