Oil spill prompts crisis meeting

Officials from the United Nations, the European Union and a maritime organization are set to meet in Greece tomorrow to map out a strategy for containing a massive Mediterranean oil spill caused by the conflict in Lebanon. Nearly 15,000 tons of leaked oil from the Jiyyeh electric plant, bombed by Israel last month, has polluted some 140 kilometers (87 miles) of the Lebanese coast and spread north into Syrian waters, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). If all the oil from the damaged facility, 30 miles south of Beruit, were to seep into the sea, officials said, the environmental fallout could rival the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill that devastated Alaska’s Prince William Sound. «The objective of the meeting is to coordinate a common strategy to confront the pollution and to devise actions to prevent the possible expansion of the oil spill,» said a communique released by the UNEP and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which are jointly hosting the meeting in Piraeus. UNEP head Achim Steiner and IMO Secretary-General Efthymios Mitropoulos will chair the meeting, also to be attended by EU Commissioner for the Environment Stavros Dimas. Representatives from Cyprus, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey will also participate, the Greek Merchant Marine Ministry said. Environmental officials and inspectors have said that the spill poses a direct threat to marine life and could also be hazardous to human health, including a heightened risk of cancer. More oil has already spilled from the Jiyyeh plant than leaked from the Erika oil tanker into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of France in 1999. «In the worst-case scenario, 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,» the UNEP said. The Exxon Valdez spilled 37,000 tons of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound after running aground on a reef on March 24, 1989. UNEP said two environmental experts had arrived in Syria to begin assessing the impact of the Jiyyeh spill, which it said it feared had already affected marine life, particularly tuna and turtles, in the Mediterranean. (AFP)

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