BEIRUT: A major cleanup effort from the Civil Defense Force Thursday recovered more than 20,000 liters of kerosene following warnings by environmental officials that a spill offshore from a major oil depot could become a major environmental disaster.

The spill, which occurred Wednesday as a fuel tanker was sending kerosene along an underwater pipeline to oil depots in Dora, north of Beirut, sent several thousand liters of oil into the eastern Mediterranean.

A source familiar with the cleanup told The Daily Star that major efforts continued Thursday to remove the fuel slick, which stretched along the coast as far as Kesrouan. “Day-long emergency operations by the units dispatched into the area by the Civil Defense helped remove the oil leak from the surface of the sea,” the source said.

The spill broke out when the ship, which was carrying 21,000 tons of kerosene, was unloading fuel down secondary pipelines distributing oil between companies.

Caretaker Environment Minister Mohammad Rahhal downplayed Wednesday the consequences of the spill and reiterated the Lebanese Army’s and Civil Defense’s readiness to contain the environmental problem.

But environmental expert Mazen Abboud lashed out at government officials and accused the state of being directly responsible for the oil spill.

“Such a spill is likely to be repeated again in the absence of a centralized government,” he said.