Israel Environment Bulletin Winter 1996-5756, Vol. 19, No. 1


July 1st, 1983: The Environmental Protection Service establishes its first enforcement unit in the field of marine pollution prevention. This short press release heralded one of the most significant landmarks in the history of Israel’s environmental administration: the inauguration of what was soon to become the foremost model for professional environmental enforcement in the country.

Marine pollution enforcement was a natural product of the modern approach which was incorporated into Israel’s marine pollution legislation from the very start. Deterrent fine levels, separate clean-up charges, notices demanding measures to prevent, stop or reduce oil pollution, and a marine pollution prevention fund, are essential elements in Israel’s marine pollution prevention laws. But the foremost element is inspection: the laws provide for the appointment of inspectors, with the authority of commissioned police officers, to conduct investigations and searches in order to prevent or discover offenses. And that has made all the difference.

The Marine Inspector

On the Mediterranean Coast, in the Gulf of Eilat, in Lake Kinneret and on the Dead Sea, the highly-skilled professional inspectors of the Environment Ministry’s Marine and Coastal Environment Division play an essential role in marine pollution prevention and abatement. Equipped with boat, vehicles, and communication, monitoring and enforcement equipment, and aided by aerial surveillance, the inspectors carry out marine and coastal patrols which include routine inspections of the hundreds of vessels and oil tankers calling at Israel’s ports, of shore installations handling oil, and of industrial plants and wastewater treatment plants in local authorities. In addition to serving a deterrent function, the inspectors investigate violations of the law by vessels or coastal facilities and file legal charges where warranted. They are aided in their work by the ever-increasing vigilance of the general public in reporting pollution episodes.

Five inspectors on the Mediterranean coast, five in the Gulf of Eilat, a national inspector for land-based sources, an officer in charge of the scientific assessment of land-based sources, and a national chemicals inspector make up the dedicated enforcement team. Continuous professional and administrative training, both in Israel and abroad, is an integral part of the work. The result: proficiency and professionalism which make the inspector not only an officer to fear, but a professional to respect.

Prevention of Sea Pollution by Oil

Enforcement of national and international laws relating to the protection of the marine environment is an essential part of the multi-faceted work plan of the Marine and Coastal Environment Division. In cases in which oil is discharged or is allowed to escape into sea water from a vessel or land installation, criminal indictments are prepared. When the polluter admits the offense and takes the necessary steps to clean up the pollution, an option of fine in lieu of trial may be in order. In other cases, full criminal proceedings are instituted. At present, the maximum fine allowed under the fine option is $8600 for a first offense and $17,200 for repeated violations. Different fine levels are imposed in accordance with such criteria as capacity of the vessel, location of the offense and other circumstances.

With the exception of only two cases, all of the 336 legal cases which have been instituted against ship owners or coastal installations since 1980 (of which some 95% relate to oil pollution) have resulted in convictions, whether court sentences, plea bargains or fine options. The high fines associated with marine pollution violations among the highest financial penalties currently imposed on environmental offenders in Israel have established an important precedent so that even in cases of plea bargaining high fine levels are the norm.

The Ministry of the Environment investigates some 40-50 cases of oil spills each year. Cases range from oil spills by major inland sources such as the Eilat-Ashkelon Oil Pipeline and Israel’s oil refineries to discharges by yachts, oil tankers and other vessels. Following is a representative sampling:

Discharge of oil to the Hadera River and the sea by a tire manufacturer: The episode was reported to the Ministry of the Environment by a citizen who discovered the oil spill in August 1993. Immediately following notification, marine pollution inspectors were dispatched to the site and traced the oil to a leaking pipeline. The industrial plant stopped the discharge and repaired the malfunction after 11 tons of oil were discharged. In light of the fact that the plant eventually admitted its responsibility and allocated considerable resources for clean-up of the river and the coastal area, it was decided that the indictment would take the form of an option of fine in lieu of trial. The fine for this first offense was set at $4300. It was paid into the Fund for the Prevention of Sea Water Pollution in October 1994.

Discharge of oil by a foreign oil tanker in the Ashkelon area: The episode was reported by the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Co. in February 1994. According to an established procedure, the necessary steps were taken to detain the vessel in port until completion of the investigation and to obtain the necessary security to assure payment of the fine and/or cleanup expenses in case of conviction. During the investigation, the captain admitted the offense, and a criminal indictment followed. The court convicted the defendant and imposed a $13,300 fine, in addition to an affidavit in the sum of $25,000 to guarantee that the offense would not recur. Delayed payment led to the imposition of a higher fine $20,000.

Discharge of oil by a foreign vessel in Eilat Bay: During the course of routine nightly surveillance, one of Eilat’s marine pollution inspectors discovered an oil slick near a foreign vessel in August 1992. An investigation traced the oil to the discharge of ballast waters. As a result of the discharge, oil slicks reached both the open sea and the coral reef reserve of Eilat. An indictment was prepared, and the case was first heard in court in February 1995. Sentence is still pending.

Prevention of Sea Pollution by Dumping

While oil pollution cases represent the bulk of the ministry’s enforcement efforts, growing attention is also being focused on the prevention of dumping from vessels or aircraft. The dumping of waste into the sea from a vessel or aircraft is regulated through a strict permit system which was instituted in 1984. The regulations list categories of substances which are prohibited or permitted to be dumped into the sea and establish procedures and considerations for issuing permits. Even when permitted, dumping must comply with regulations which specify such details as method, location, and timing of dumping. In addition, a permit may require monitoring of the environmental and health impacts around the dumping site. Any person who contravenes the prohibitions is liable to imprisonment or a stiff fine. Furthermore, violation of any of the provisions of the law and its regulations, including such administrative matters as non-compliance with the terms of a permit or failure to apply for a permit, is deemed to be a finable offense.

While administrative enforcement of the dumping law has proved effective, whether in such cases as dumping of coal ash by the Israel Electric Corporation or the sinking of a vessel in the Gulf of Eilat to serve as an infrastructure for the development of coral reefs, Israel is currently witnessing the first court case which has resulted from violation of the law. Criminal proceedings have been instituted against a well-known personality for the sinking of his vessel off the Ashdod shoreline. Dumping of the vessel in November 1993 did not comply with the conditions of the permit which was issued two months previously, both with regard to the dumping site and the dumping procedure which requires prior approval by the ministry’s marine pollution inspectors. The case, which was presented in court in February 1995, is still pending.

Land-Based Pollution

In the case of land-based pollution, the entrance into force of the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Land-Based Sources Law and its enabling regulations in 1990, constituted a major breakthrough. According to the regulations, permits can only be issued by an interministerial permits committee under special conditions when the waste or wastewater does not contain toxic materials harmful to the marine environment, as specified in the annexes to the regulations. In cases in which such materials are contained in the waste, the plant must prove that it undertook the best available economically-feasible technology to treat the waste prior to its discharge to sea.

Major efforts are being invested by Israel’s marine inspectors to enforce the regulations, using both the carrot and the stick. Some 60 industrial plants and 30 local authorities and sewage sources have been targeted for vigorous enforcement. The inspectors work closely with each inland source of pollution, providing professional advice and guidance, sampling discharges, monitoring compliance with permit conditions, and negotiating timetables for improvements. Only when industrial plants or municipalities refuse to comply with the terms of the law, are investigations opened, permits canceled, and indictments prepared. Since the granting of licenses to industrial plants under the Licensing of Businesses Law is dependent on the fulfillment of the land-based sources law, charges frequently relate to the violation of both laws.

As a result of increased law enforcement, the discharge of waste from a number of polluting plants has been halted; binding plans, replete with timetables for stopping discharge into the sea have been prepared for industrial plants and municipalities; and sewage treatment plants have either been established or upgraded in a number of municipalities.

While a full list of the improvements is well beyond the scope of this short survey, a few notable examples are in order: The Israel Electric Company is implementing a $45 million disposal and treatment plan for the wastewater of each of its coastal power stations; the Frutarom plant in Acre is completing a comprehensive wastewater treatment program which will effectively treat the wastes generated by its production of ethylene dichloride (EDC) and vinyl chloride monomer (VCM); both the Nahariyya and Acre municipalities are working toward the establishment of regional wastewater treatment plants; Herzliya has completed an 800-meter marine outfall for the disposal of its effluents; and Eilat has stopped the discharge of its sewage into the Gulf waters.

Since enforcement of the land-based legislation started five years ago, the following achievements have been noted:

  • Discharges to the sea from 11 major sources of land-based pollution have stopped;
  • Discharges from an additional 18 sources should cease within one to three years;
  • Significant improvement in the quality of wastewater was attained in 16 instances;
  • Improvements in marine outfalls were achieved in 13 cases;
  • Wastewater surveys and/or monitoring plans were conducted in 13 major sources of land-based pollution.

    Finally, although Israel has not yet legislated laws in the area of chemical pollution deriving from industrial effluents, port chemical terminals and ships transporting chemicals handling procedures for chemicals shipped to and from Israel are designed to ensure maximum safety, and all tank washing activities are carried out according to regulations issued by the International Maritime Organization. The presence of a special chemicals inspector has gone a long way toward boosting enforcement. Enforcement should be further strengthened once legislation on the subject is completed.

    A Model of Enforcement

    While Israel’s marine pollution inspectors do not hesitate to open investigations and initiate legal proceedings when necessary, their success may well derive from their professional attributes, from their willingness to help as well as threaten, to initiate workable solutions as well as criminal investigations. Plants which once violated marine pollution prevention laws with impunity, are now listening to the professional advice offered by the inspectors, not only in order to escape heavy fines, but in order to implement workable solutions. The two-fold message is clear: prevention pays pollution does not.