Oil spill from Syria is close to hitting Cyprus’ shores

An oil leak from Syria’s largest refinery is spreading across the Mediterranean Sea and could reach Cyprus by Wednesday, according to authorities on the island. Satellite imagery confirmed that this spill is larger than initially thought, currently covering around 800 square kilometers (309 square miles).

The coast of Cyrpus. Image credits Dimitris Vetsikas.

Authorities on the island of Cyprus say the oil spill could reach their shores by Wednesday. The spill was first reported on August 23, originating near a thermal power plant in the city of Baniyas. Syrian authorities have not been able to contain the spill so far.

Oil trouble

Authorities in Turkish Cyprus have already taken emergency action to try and keep the crude away from the island’s beaches and from wreaking environmental havoc. Teams with sponges and hoses have been deployed on-site to try and mop up some of the oil. Turkey also plans to dispatch two ships to the island and assist in clean-up and containment efforts, and the Greek Cypriot government is collaborating with the European Maritime Safety Agency to get an oil recovery vessel, as well.

In the meantime, a 400-meter long barrier has been erected off of the Karpas peninsula to prevent oil from contaminating local beaches.

The spill is currently covering an area of around 800 square kilometers (309 square miles). Simulations run by the Cypriot Department of Fisheries and Marine Research suggest that the oil spill could reach the Apostolos Andreas Cape, Cyprus’ northernmost point, within a day, according to CNN. This statement was made at around 11 a.m. local time (4 a.m. ET) on Tuesday, and at the time the oil slick came within 7 kilometers (4 miles) of the coast.

The Guardian, citing “environmental officials in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus – internationally recognized only by Ankara”, report that roughly 20,000 tons of fuel oil have been spilled from the Syrian plant so far.

“We are taking the necessary measures by mobilizing our resources to stop any chances of the spill turning into an environmental disaster,” Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay told the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Hopefully, everyone will be banding together and doing their utmost best to tackle this spill. The Mediterranean is a wonderful place, and it has already suffered through an oil spill earlier this year, in February, from the coast of Israel. Politically speaking, the actors that have to work together to work this out don’t really have much love for one another. Still, everybody has a lot to lose if they don’t put their differences aside, as the Mediterranean is an important economic sea and a wildly diverse ecosystem.

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