Clean-up strategy for oiled Lebanese coast given green light by international community
and UNEP meeting backs Euro 50 million anti-pollution action plan
jointly on behalf of IMO and UNEP
17 August 2006: An action plan to assist the authorities in Lebanon with the
clean-up of coastal oil pollution and to prevent any damage to neighbouring countries
was agreed today at an international meeting convened by the International Maritime
Organization (IMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
in Athens, Greece.
United Nations officials and experts, along with countries
in the region and the European Commission, backed a plan aimed at dealing with
an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 tonnes of fuel oil that seeped into the Mediterranean
Sea from a damaged power utility 30km south of Beirut.
The pollution, triggered
by bombs striking the facility between 13 and 15 July, is estimated to have affected
150km of coastline with some oil reaching as far north as Syria.
Assistance Action Plan has been prepared by the Experts Working Group for Lebanon
under the supervision of the UNEP-MAP's Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response
Centre for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC)
and the Minister of the Environment of Lebanon.
REMPEC is administered
by the UN's International Maritime Organization (IMO) and is one of the UNEP-MAP
regional activity centres under the Barcelona Convention.
UNEP's Executive Director who attended the event hosted by the Greek Mercantile
Ministry in Piraeus, said:" Firstly our thoughts are with the people on all
sides of this conflict who have suffered over the past few weeks. It is an absolute
priority that every effort is made to bring the humanitarian assistance so urgently
"However, it is also a sad fact that the environment
- so vividly underlined by the oil slick and the blackened, damaged coastline
- is also a victim with all the repercussions for livelihoods, human health, economic
development, ecosystems, fisheries, tourism and rare and endangered wildlife,"
"Now the bombs have stopped and the guns have been silenced
we have a chance to rapidly assess the true magnitude of the problem and finally
mobilize the support for an oil clean-up and a restoration of the coastline. The
experts are on standby and today the international community has agreed an action
plan. I sincerely hope we have secured the financial backing to swiftly and comprehensively
deliver on this promise to the Lebanese people, on this request to the UN for
assistance from the Lebanese authorities," he added.
Mitropoulos, Secretary-General of IMO, said: "I am delighted that we have
been able to agree on this action plan which now sets the stage for the wide-ranging
assistance the Lebanese, and to a lesser extent the Syrian, authorities so urgently
IMO's traditional role is dealing with shipping and the aftermath of a ship or
tanker accident, we have in international law a sound basis for being part of
the response through such conventions as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea
and the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation.
I sincerely hope that the damage to the environment is contained to the current
level and that other Mediterranean Sea countries do not suffer as a result of
the oil spill, also that we can all learn a lot from this tragic incident and
take these lessons forward so we are better prepared in the future," he added.
a statement to the meeting, Stavros Dimas, the Commissioner in charge of the environment
and civil protection in the European Commission, said: "The recent oil spill
off the coast of Lebanon may affect the livelihood, health and future prospects
of Lebanon and the surrounding countries. With the help of the Commission's civil
protection mechanism, Member States of the European Union have been able to provide
coordinated assistance, including experts and specialized materials".
cessation of the hostilities will create the conditions for engaging the support
of the international community in a consistent and coordinated manner. It is my
hope that the agreement of this common action plan will step by step take over
the first response by the civil protection mechanism of the European Commission,"
Dimas added: "The Commission also anticipates, subject to formal approval,
to provide a Euro 10 million complement to the 2006 financing package to Lebanon
for technical assistance in the upcoming reconstruction process, with a particular
emphasis on infrastructures and environment sectors."
The experts (please see notes), drawn from across the United
Nations, research centres, non-governmental organizations and the private sector,
estimate the initial mobilization of Euro 50 million for the clean-up with possibly
more funds needed in 2007.
The estimate is partly based on the costs linked
with the clean-up of the Haven oil tanker incident of 1991. This led to
a spill of 10,000 to 20,000 tonnes of crude oil close to the Genoa, Italian coast.
During the Haven incident numerous areas of the Italian Liguria and French
Provence coasts were contaminated.
actions - short term
Computer models indicate that close to 20 per cent
of the oil has probably evaporated, that close to 80 per cent is likely to be
now on the coastline with around 0.25 per cent or approximately 40 tonnes remaining
However satellite images, backed by eye witness accounts from organizations
like IUCN, the World Conservation Union, suggest that in reality larger amounts
may remain at sea.
The Action Plan recommends that immediate, helicopter-based
aerial surveys with a trained independent observer, be conducted to resolve the
The Plan also calls for a "permanent on-site advisory force"
of up to three pollution response specialists. They will assist in site surveys
and act as an advisory team to the Lebanese Ministry of the Environment.
countries have offered clean-up and oil-containment equipment. "Ideally,
each donor providing equipment should make available one or several specialists
to demonstrate and train local staff in equipment use," says the Plan.
plan flags up concern surrounding, on the one hand, inadequate cleaning and, on
the other hand, over-cleaning of contaminated sites. Experience from previous
oil spills indicates that either can cause more harm than good.
Plan recommends that Lebanese staff acting as "site operation supervisors"
are given three to four days of training in state of the art fine cleaning management
in Lebanon or a country close by such as Cyprus.
short term priority actions include:-
of mobile oil in ports, confined areas, economic or social strategic sites and
heavily-polluted sites - seven sites with high priority have been identified by
the Lebanese authorities with a further 13 classed as "secondary priority".|
clear approach on the transport, disposal, storage and incineration of recovered
waste from the clean-up.|
testing of oil samples to see if they may contain Persistent Organic Pollutants
like Polychlorinated Bi-Phenols (PCBs) given that the oil originated from a power
The plan suggests that tackling all polluted sites at the same time
will be impossible. It proposes that a workforce of 300 people could tackle up
to 30 sites simultaneously and recommends that floating or 'mobile' oil in places
like ports and harbours be tackled first.
Protection of still-not-contaminated,
sensitive areas - for example nesting areas for birds and endangered species like
turtles, World Heritage sites and tourist locations - and the cleaning of contaminated
areas should be undertaken.
The Plan acknowledges that time is, and will
continue to have, an impact on the clean-up. Oil at sea will become increasingly
fragmented and difficult to collect and oil on shore will progressively 'emulsify',
becoming more viscous and difficult to recover as it mixes in with sediments and
The experts say that a range of equipment will likely be needed to
deal with the various stages of contamination and different affected sites - from
contaminated tourist and beach locations up to boats, contaminated ports and harbours.
Lebanese authorities are currently deploying vacuum trucks and pumps at some sites.
The plan points out that this kind of equipment is generally only suitable for
mobile low viscosity oils.
Plan points to a "continually evolving scenario demanding a move, for example,
from vacuum trucks and pumps to mechanical grabs as the oil become more viscous".
suggests looking into the possibility that some of the liquid oil collected could
be burnt at refineries and that 'lightly oiled" sediments could be recycled
in road and public works construction after being neutralized with, for example,
When most of the clean-up has been achieved, the full consequences
of the incident should be assessed and any lessons learnt used to improve the
preparedness of the Lebanese authorities in the event of future oil spills.
30, 17 August 2006Notes:
The International Assistance Action
Plan has been prepared by the Experts Working Group for Lebanon and supervised
by the IMO/UNEP Regional Marine Pollution Emergency response Centre for the Mediterranean
include the joint UNEP/Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs environment
unit; the European Commission Monitoring Information Centre; the International
Tanker Owners Petroleum Federation Ltd; the United Nations Development Programme;
ICRAM- Istituto Centrale per la Ricerca Scientifica e Tecnologica Applicata al
Mare; the Oceanography Centre-University of Cyprus and CEDRE - the Centre de Documentation,
de Recherche et d'Expérimentations sur les Pollutions Accidentelles des
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