By Olivia Alabaster
The Daily Star
The CANA-CNRS is named after Qana in southern Lebanon.
The CANA-CNRS is named after Qana in southern Lebanon.

BEIRUT: A former Italian fishing vessel began its new life as a marine research boat at the Beirut naval base Friday, under the auspices of the Italian ambassador to Lebanon.

A donation from the Italian government to help coastal research in Lebanon, the boat CANA-CNRS (taking its name from Qana in southern Lebanon, “a symbol in the eyes of the Lebanese people,” according to their literature) will be overseen by the National Council for Scientific Research, now entering its 50th year.

The CANA-CNRS vessel is part of a wider project entitled “Establishing Monitoring and Sustainable Development of the Lebanese Sea,” which aims to gather information about the coastal and marine environment and eventually to help produce a framework for coastal policy.

Manned by a team of three, Captain Michel Youssef, a mechanic and a sailor, all former Lebanese Army crew, the vessel will be docked at the naval base at the Beirut port, but will travel along the country’s coastline for some two or three days a week.

Attending Friday’s launch were Minister of Agriculture Hussein Hajj Hasan and Italy’s ambassador to Lebanon, Giuseppe Morabito.

Speaking a day earlier, at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Agriculture Ministry, Lega Pesca – the Italian organization overseeing the project – and CNRS, the ambassador said that the move was an important step. “We are not here just to sign an MoU but to confirm Italian commitment to and cooperation with Lebanon and to allow the CNRS to perform these important studies.”

With over 15 countries sharing the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, many natural and man-made disasters have taken their toll on the resource, with the CNRS labeling it “a sea under siege.”

Lebanon’s beaches and marine life have been severely damaged after years of mismanaged coastal development and the release of sewage and waste waters along the shoreline. “Wastewaters from urban areas are being discharged without adequate treatment … raising a potential public health hazard,” the CNRS said.

Operating under a research team of around eight people, the five main tasks of the CANA-CNRS vessel will be to study the physical environment of the sea; hydrobiology and hydrology; marine resources, including the monitoring of dolphins observed offshore and often caught accidentally by fishermen; coastal pollution; and then eventually the sharing of results with relevant bodies.

Most recently, disagreements between Israel and Lebanon over the sea border between the two countries, potentially jeopardizing Lebanon’s access to offshore oil and gas reserves, has highlighted the area as an arena of regional tension.

Morabito said that “we must look at the Mediterranean as a ground for cooperation, not for confrontation between states.”

The sea, he said, must also be protected for future generations and states which share borders with the sea must work together to share research and technical assistance to reduce pollution and promote the sea as an economic asset which can increase tourism.

“I am convinced that if states cooperate and share research we will increase the wealth of our respective peoples,” he said.

Also speaking Thursday, Hajj Hasan thanked the Italians for their donation. “Your cooperation, your assistance, your work, your generosity and your friendship must be praised,” he said.

Research was vital, the agriculture minister said, in order to help politicians make the best policy decisions, to promote development and prosperity and to allow individuals and groups to “live better and to preserve the treasures of nature.”

Hajj Hasan also said that he would, within the next few weeks, present a plan for the fishing sector to the government, “so we can obtain the state funding to improve the quality of fishermen’s lives.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 19, 2011, on page 3.

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