[also appears in: Charlotte Observer, Times Daily, New York Times, San Luis Obispo, Fort Wayne news, Newsday, Times Picayune ………. 20 more other US media agencies]
PIRAEUS, Greece - U.N. and maritime agencies promised help to Lebanon Thursday to clean up an oil slick caused by Israeli bombing during the monthlong fighting.
The spill has been described as Lebanon's worst-ever environmental disaster, and experts say it could take up to a year to clean it up at a cost of more than $65 million.
The slick, polluting more than 85 miles of shoreline, according to U.N. estimates, was caused by the bombing of a power station near Beirut July 13-15, spilling about 15,000 tons of oil into the sea - threatening marine life and the local fishing and tourism industries.
Officials from the International Maritime Organization, the U.N. Environment Program, or UNEP, and the European Union said they would appeal for international financial assistance to contain the spill.
Pia Bucella, a representative of the EU environment commissioner, said the agency would give Lebanon $13 million in initial assistance for dealing will the spill.
UNEP offered $400,000, and OPEC an initial $200,000. Cleanup equipment from Norway has already been deployed in the area.
UNEP Director Achim Steiner said the cleanup had been seriously delayed by Israeli airstrikes that lasted for four weeks after the power station was bombed. Hostilities ended Aug. 14.
"This is a ... major environmental emergency," Steiner said. "I'm not aware of any incident with such a four-week delay."
ATHENS, Aug 17 (Reuters) - U.N. agencies on Thursday called for 50 million euros ($64 million) to mop up an oil spill from an airstrike during Israel's offensive in Lebanon, before the slick spreads further along the eastern Mediterranean coastline.
Although a truce that began on Monday has given relief from fighting between Israel and Hizbollah that had hindered clean up efforts, a Lebanese minister said an ongoing Israeli sea and air blockade was limiting access.
Between 10,000-15,000 tonnes of oil spilled into the Mediterranean Sea when Israeli jets hit storage tanks at the Jiyyeh power plant south of Beirut on July 13 and 15.
U.N. agencies meeting in Athens said hostilities had stopped them assessing the damage, a key step in dealing with the spill of mostly hard to clean up heavy fuel, spreading along 140 km (87 miles) of shore and threatening sensitive marine life.
Monday's ceasefire has made it possible to send in some help. Israel agreed to allow international experts and clean up crews access from the shore, although Lebanon's environment minister said it was still not allowing helicopters or other aircraft to assess the damage.
"Israel has allowed humanitarian corridors since Monday. The embargo has not totally been lifted, airspace and waters remain sealed, but they have free movement on the shore for the international assistance to go in," Lebanon's Environment Minister Yacoub Sarraf told a news conference after the meeting.
U.N. agencies such as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the Environment Programme (UNEP) warned the spill, which has been left largely unchecked for about a month, was a threat to the wider region and the cost of recovery was rising.
"It may still affect others. It may still spread further," said Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director. "The situation retains an element of utter urgency."
"To this day we cannot tell you with any accuracy what amount of oil remains off the sea. We have been condemned to working with satellite images and ad hoc observations because access to the area has been impossible in terms of aerial surveys," Steiner said.
Officials said some local groups had already started to clean up beaches but a larger effort was needed to prevent the spill from reaching marinas and beaches in Cyprus and Turkey.
It is believed about 80 percent of the oil is on the coastline, 20 percent has evaporated and less than one percent is at sea.
A U.N. action plan envisions about 300 people working at 30 cleaning sites, disposing of waste either by burning it in refineries or possibly using some in public works such as road construction.
Officials said no timetable had been agreed for the action plan because it hinged on securing funding from governments, companies and organisations.
The spill threatens marine species such as Bluefin tuna and sea turtles, including the green turtle which is endangered in the Mediterranean. UNEP said it also had humanitarian and economic implications, by robbing fishermen of their livelihoods and discouraging tourism.
Financial Times: Cost of enviromental damge in Lebanon seen at 50m
17 August 2006 Thursday 9:57:06 PM GMT
The cost of cleaning up the environmental damage caused by Israeli airstrikes on oil storage facilities in Lebanon will be at least 50m according to a UN agency.
The figure was revealed on Thursday after a meeting of the United Nations Environment Programme with other involved parties including the International Maritime Organization.
The agency estimates that between 10,000 and 15,000 tonnes of fuel oil seeped into the Mediterranean from the Jiyyeh power facility - 30km south of Beirut - after it was damaged in attacks in mid-July. It is believed to have affected 150km of coastline.
Announcing an International Assistance Action Plan, to help Lebanese authorities in the clean-up, Unep executive director Achim Steiner stressed "this is a conservative figure", adding it will be adjusted accordingly in the future.
"It [the oil spill] is an environmental disaster but also a development which compounds the economic and humanitarian cost [of the war]," said Mr Steiner.
He noted OPEC had earlier pledged an initial $200,000 during a meeting of officials from UN organisations, the European Commission, senior representatives from Mediterranean countries and technical experts who met to draw up the Action Plan.
The 50m figure was based on the experience of the cost of the Haven incident off Italy in 1991 when some 10,000 to 20,000 tonnes of crude oil were spilt at sea close to the Genoa coast..
According to the Action Plan document, the Italian and the French authorities spent 80m for clean-up operations close to Genoa's coast and other areas in the Italian Liguria and French Provence coasts.
Efthimios Mitropoulos, secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), stressed the need for the international community to act fast and rigorously but cautioned "this is not an easy task, it is a complicated issue."
He said the priorities were an assessment of the situation, the containment of the oil pollution off the coast of Lebanon and Syria and the better coordination of other countries - Turkey, Cyprus and Greece - to fight the threat of the oil spill.
According to the Action Plan, its main objective was to provide immediate technical assistance to the Lebanese authorities on oil spill response strategy and techniques, assess the type of assistance and identify and mobilise the financial and in-kind contributions to implement it.