NEWS

Oil spill assistance pledged

International experts meeting in Piraeus yesterday unveiled a plan to limit the damage from a devastating oil spill caused after Israeli raids on a Lebanon power plant last month. Officials from the United Nations, the European Union and the International Maritime Organization promised technical and financial assistance and put the cost of the cleanup in the range of 50 million euros or more. United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner described the 50-million forecast as «a very conservative figure» to tackle a «major environmental emergency.» «With every day that passes without us being able to take remedial action on a significant scale, the cost of coping with the oil slick will increase,» Steiner said. Nearly 15,000 tons of fuel oil leaked from the Jiyyeh plant south of Beirut on July 13 and 15 after storage tanks were hit by Israeli jets. According to UN estimates, the oil slick has polluted more than 140 kilometers of coastline, stretching all the way up to Syria. Experts warn that Cyprus, Turkey and Greece could be affected by the disaster. International officials admit to being in the dark about the magnitude of the catastrophe. «Access to the area has been impossible,» Steiner said, referring to an Israeli coastal blockade that has until recently obstructed international efforts to evaluate the spill. Steiner expressed hope that the UN-brokered truce which came into force Monday will open the door to experts and equipment. The so-called international assistance action plan calls for immediate, helicopter-based aerial surveys to evaluate the damage. It also asks donors to provide in-kind assistance including pumps, hoses, skimmers and storage means. Pia Bucella from the EU’s Environment Commission said that the agency will provide a 10-million-euro complement to the financing package to Lebanon in technical assistance for tackling the spill. OPEC has already pledged 156,000 euros ($200,000) to help clear the spill. Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis attended the meeting, as did officials from Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon and Syria. Apart from the impact on marine life and regional economic activity, such as tourism and fishing, environment groups have warned about the health hazards posed by the spill. «Oil, water and human lives do not mix well,» Steiner said.