Friday, August 25, 2006

Greenpeace exposes oil slick on the seabed off the Lebanese coast

Beirut, Lebanon — At a press conference in Beirut today, Greenpeace and the Lebanese Union of Professional Divers, screened unseen footage of an underwater oil slick in the surrounding waters of the bombed Jieh Powe Plant. The footage showed an oil slick that stretches for at least 100 meters to the West and dozens of meters to the North and South of thickness that vary from 1 to 10 cm. The investigation reveals that a substantial part of the oil spilt during the recent war is now smothering the seabed. After six weeks, the oil is still suffocating the coast of Lebanon. From the shore at Jieh, the sea looks a beautiful azure blue, but beneath the surface on the seabed the oil continues to kill marine life and poison the water.

The scene is horrific, the seabed is completely covered with fuel oil which will threaten marine life for many years to come if it is not contained and removed immediately. This discovery in Jeih and other diving documentations in Beirut and Jbeil is an indication that much more poisonous oil could be suffocating the seabed all along the coastline; a full coastal assessment is required immediately. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 tonnes of Fuel Oil 150 poured into the Mediterranean Sea following the bombing of the Jieh power plant on July 13 and 15. This has contaminated at least 22 areas along 150 km of the Northern Lebanese coast; however the full extent of the spill has yet to be fully assessed as aerial surveillance is still not possible due to an air and sea blockade.

It is clear that a full assessment of the extent of the oil spill will need underwater investigation along the coast as well as aerial and ground surveillance; the blockade must be lifted for this work to proceed; furthermore increased efforts are needed to recover as much oil as possible from contaminated areas. Responding to the spill was delayed due to the war and oil recovery and mitigation only started 5 weeks after the spill occurred; even now only a limited response is possible due to difficulties in getting more equipment and expertise into the area. The delays are contributing to further contamination. The oil on the seabed could be brought back to the surface with currents and winds and could lead to further contamination of the coastline. The images are alarming and increase the need for urgent action from local authorities and support from the international community, a full damage assessment needs to be carried out to cover all the environmental impacts caused by the war and, as a priority, caused by the spill.

Greenpeace has been working to gather information for a post conflict environmental assessment in Lebanon and will provide the authorities with the details of this seabed contamination. The organisation has offered whatever help it can provide to the regional and national authorities and will be co-ordinating teams of volunteers over the coming period to help recover oil.

Source: Greenpeace

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