Israel's Beaches Blackened after Offshore Oil Spill

Israel is trying to find the ship responsible for an oil spill drenching a large part of its Mediterranean coastline with tar, an environmental blow that will take months or years to clean up, officials said.

Thousands of volunteers gathered on Sunday to remove from the pale beaches clumps of sticky black refuse, reports Reuters.

The Israeli army said it was sending thousands of troops to assist with the effort. Authorities warned everyone else before further notice to keep their distance.

It was deemed a tragedy by environmental organizations. They posted pictures of tar-covered turtles to show the cost to wildlife.

The event began last week during a winter storm, which made it harder to see the tar approaching and deal with it at sea, Israeli officials said.

Israel, along with European authorities, looked at a Feb. 11 oil spill from a ship approximately 50 km (21 miles) from shore as a potential cause. Satellite images and wave movement modeling have helped to narrow the search.

Nine ships that were in the area at the time are being looked at, said Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel.

“There is a more than reasonable chance that we will be able to locate the specific ship,” she told Ynet TV.

If found, Israel could take legal action. One course would be to sue insurance companies for compensation to help deal with the ecological fallout, she said, which could cost tens of millions of shekels.

Late last week a 17-metre-long (55ft) fin whale was found washed up on a beach in southern Israel. The Nature and Parks Authority said on Sunday that an autopsy had found oil-based material in the whale’s body, with further tests pending.

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