The Treasury will transfer NIS 22 million to equip two ships to treat sea pollution along Mediterranean coast.

The Treasury will transfer NIS 22 million to equip two ships to treat sea pollution, the Environmental Protection Ministry announced on Tuesday.

After the Environmental Protection Ministry threatened it would not give its support in the Planning and Building Committee to the establishment of further oil and gas drilling off the coast, the Finance Ministry agreed on the NIS 22m. sum for pollution prevention measures, the Environment Ministry said.

In addition to financing the ship deployment, the funds will also pay for two pollution prevention facilities to be built along the Mediterranean coast, as well as nine new Environmental Protection Ministry professionals to manage the treatment of oil and gas drilling leaks there.

“We cannot continue to rely on luck, and must be prepared for the mishaps that will occur during drilling that will cause severe pollution incidents,” Environmental Protection Ministry director-general Alona Shefer-Karo said. “The agreement that was reached allows us to continue to advance drilling activities and at the same time build a treatment system that will provide a quick, professional response in emergency events.”

The coastal facilities will be located in Haifa and Ashkelon and will operate on a 24-hour basis, seven days a week, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, the ministry will use the new budget to buy the ships dedicated to fighting pollution at sea – equipped with mechanisms to pump fuel from the water and capable of longterm stays at sea, the ministry said.

When conducting oil and gas drilling, it is imperative to monitor pollution levels in the Mediterranean within about 150 kilometers of the coast, the ministry explained. Aside from the drilling, at any given moment there are also about 2,000 merchant ships in the Mediterranean Sea and about 60 marine accidents occur there each year, of which approximately 15 results in oil spills. It is therefore crucial to ensure that appropriate equipment and professional personnel and vessels are available to handle the various dangers, the ministry said.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel praised the agreement to finance these pollution prevention mechanisms, and noted it has for several years been emphasizing the importance of protecting the sea from oil and gas drilling.

“There is no dispute that together with the benefits of discovering oil and gas, the industry bears high risks and potentially great damage to the sea and to the State of Israel,” SPNI said.

“Therefore, SPNI welcomes the fact that the state is taking necessary measures for the protection and preservation of the sea resources, and now calls upon the Environmental Protection Ministry to complete the required legislation related to Israel’s economic waters, outside its territorial waters, so that the ministry can also exercise its authorities in these areas.”

The territorial waters are those within 12 nautical miles (22.224 km.) of a country’s coast, while the economic waters – otherwise known as the exclusive economic zone – are those within 200 nautical miles (370 km.). The Environmental Protection Ministry currently lacks the authority to regulate in the latter.