Greenpeace exposes suffocating oil slick on the seabed off the Lebanese coast

Press release - 22 August, 2006
Large amounts of the huge oil slick off the Lebanese coast has now sunk to the sea bed, creating a thick carpet of heavy fuel oil up to 10 cm thick, which is suffocating sea life, Greenpeace revealed today.

At a press conference in Beirut, Greenpeace and the Lebanese Union ofProfessional Divers screened previously unseen video footage showingthe underwater oil slick covering an area stretching over 100 meters tothe West and in places dozens of meters to the North and South of thesite of the leak. The newly-discovered oil on the seabed could bebrought back to the surface with currents and winds and could lead tofurther contamination of the coastline.

"The scene is horrific, the seabed is completely covered with fuel oilwhich will threaten marine life for many years to come if it is notcontained and removed immediately" said Mohammed El-Sarji, Greenpeaceactivist and head of the Lebanese Union of professional Divers whoconducted several dives in Jieh.

Oil spill expert Professor Rick Steiner from the University of Alaska,who is in Beirut advising the Lebanese government and various NGOscommented: "This might the first time ever that seabed contaminationhas been documented this clearly. The oil is extensive and very toxicand a we need to find a way to save the marine environment."

Greenpeace reiterated its call for a thorough investigation andanalysis of the impact of the oil spill, along with other environmentalcasualties of the conflict.Zeina Al Hajj, Greenpeace co-ordinator in Beirut commented "The imagesare alarming and it is clear that a full assessment of the extent ofthe oil spill will need underwater investigation along the coast aswell as aerial and ground surveillance; the blockade must be lifted forthis work to proceed.

More effort is needed to recover as much oil as possible fromcontaminated areas. A full damage assessment must be carried out tocover all the environmental impacts caused by the war and, as apriority, caused by this spill."

An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 tonnes of Fuel Oil 1501 poured into theMediterranean Sea following the bombing of the Jieh power plant on July13 and 15.  This has contaminated up to 30 areas along 150 km ofthe Lebanese coast north of Jieh; however the full extent of the spillhas yet to be fully assessed as aerial surveillance is still notpossible due to an air and sea blockade. 

Response to the spill was delayed due to the war and oil recovery andmitigation only started five weeks after the spill occurred. Even now,only a limited response is possible due to difficulties in getting moreequipment and expertise into the area, contributing to furthercontamination.

Greenpeace has been working to gather information for a post conflictenvironmental assessment in Lebanon and will provide the authoritieswith the details of this seabed contamination.  The organisationhas offered whatever help it can provide to the regional and nationalauthorities and will be contributing to the mitigation efforts.

Other contacts: Omer Elnaiem Greenpeace Middle East Communications Officer in Beirut, Mobile: 00961 3755100Email: eina Al Hajj, Greenpeace International Co-ordinator in Beirut, Mobile: 00961 70990849Email: ohammed El Sarji,, Head of the Lebanese Union of professional Divers, Mobile: 00961 3665589Basma Badran Greenpeace Middle East spokesperson in Beirut, Mobile: 00961 3797449Email: aul Horsman, Greenpeace International project leader in Istanbul 00 905 392780467Isabel Leal, Greenpeace International in Amsterdam, Mobile: 00 34 647 241502

VVPR info: Images and footage are available upon request; please contact Hester Van Meurs from Greenpeace International in Amsterdam, tel. +31 20 718 2090

Notes: 1. Fuel Oil 150 is a slightly less dense and less viscous heavy fuel oil than standard bunker fuel 180. It is probably a blend of bunker fuel and lighter diesel fractions. Fuel oil 150 is considered to be slightly more toxic than the 180 and would lose a higher percentage of these lighter fractions over time through volatilisation to the air.2. Once oil is in the sea, the so-called lighter (more volatile) parts or fractions are lost through evaporation, degradation and dispersion, especially in warm waters, such that they should present less of an acute toxicity problem. However, it is still possible for these fractions to cause tainting of fish and shellfish, even when they are present at relatively low concentrations. Other more soluble compounds or chemicals are formed as partial breakdown products as the oil starts breaking into smaller droplets and is attacked by microbes that are able to digest the oil.

Exp. contact date: 2006-09-20 00:00:00