October 08, 2006

Oil spills, Clean Beaches and Salt Flats

I finally wrote the long overdue oil spill story. (An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 tonnes of crude oil spilled from a power utility south of Beirut after it was struck by missiles between 13 and 15 July. Some 150km of the coast has been affected) People of Seacore had been on the job for only one day, and yet I had never seen the pebble beach on the northern side of the Byblos harbor THAT clean! Not a speck of oil in sight, not one bit of garbage to see.

My elation was a bit premature, it seemed. All they had done, was indeed clean up the garbage, but the oil was still there. About half a meter deep. Because the clean-up operation couldn’t/didn’t start right away, the oil had about a month to percolate into the sand and pebbles. So the actual cleaning still had to begin. It seems you cannot start cleaning the oil when there is ‘other trash’ around. Yet the fact that it took only one day – and, granted, about 80 fishermen from the port of Byblos – to totally clear two beaches (the one on the southern side had been cleaned as well) of plastic bottles, household trash, medical waste and other bits of garbage, makes you wonder why the municipality of Byblos (or any other municipality for that matter) does not do this more often. It can’t be a money issue. How much do 80 men cost you for a day? $1,200 max? Or you think they wouldn’t work for that money?


Anyway, the oil seems to have sunk in on beaches. But according to the Seacore guy, this isn’t really a problem. He is planning on cleaning the stretch of Byblos to Anfeh - about 25 kilometers – in exactly 60 days (and with $5 million). That includes getting that ‘rim out of the bath tub’ as he called it - all the rocky parts have this black oil on the water level - the monuments, the beaches, the oil that has sank to the bottom in front of the coast, the quay, and they intend to get the fishermen’s boats out and sandblast them to get that layer off as well.
The French and the Italians are in town as well to do some cleaning. The French guy however is talking about ‘years’, when it comes to cleaning up the coastal line. The American man of Seacore does not quite see why it should take that long. Maybe because the French are Mediterranean, like us (Lebanese).
The oil that has sunk to the bottom of the Mediterranean is a bit more complicated to clean up. Crude oil, according to the man of Seacore, has the tendency to roll op like carpets. And if that is the case, you can just pick them up, and the job is done. But sometimes it sticks to the rock, even underwater, and then the job obviously is a lot more tricky.

The little fishermen’s port in Beirut though, the small one right next to the zillion star Movenpick hotel, is in very poor state. The French seem to have sucked up the floating layer of oil, which looks a bit like molasses, but they haven’t gotten around doing any detailed work. So this ‘brown bath tub rim’ is all around. The boats are absolutely filthy, and the crevasses around the harbor are still thick with oil. (According to Wikipedia: In general, lighter refined petroleum products such as diesel and gasoline are more likely to mix in the water column and are more toxic to marine life, but tend to evaporate relatively quickly and do not persist long in the environment. Heavier crude or fuel oil, while of less immediate toxicity, can remain on the water surface or stranded on the shoreline for much longer.)

Plenty of fishermen around, however. They do not seem to be overly bothered by the oil. Fishing is ‘khafif’ (light), they said. But these are the guys with the fishing rods (Hana (3), who learned how to fish this summer, is still talking about her ‘fishing rob’). The boats do not seem to be going out. Eddie wanted to swim, especially since he saw a hundreds of little fish in the water, visibility was excellent, so he dove in. A little guy, coming from the port, joined him for a while.

The area around this little port is very interesting in geological terms. It’s got this layered sedimentary rock, and you can see these flint nodules sticking right out. Someone of the AUB Archeological Museum told me that they found stone tools in the caves near Rauche, which makes perfect sense, because that is right next door. Very funny stones they’ve got. It’s a pity I am not a geologist. Next life, maybe.

We went to the salt pans, near Tripoli, to see if they were affected by the oil spill. But if you see what floats in those basins, a little oil wouldn’t do much harm either, I think. Absolutely filthy. No more Lebanese sea salt for me. It is a very old industry, this salt harvesting next to the sea. Most basins have fallen in disrepair however. Overall they are poorly maintained, so it does not seem like this is a money making industry (anymore). It is a pity though, because if marketed smartly, you could sell this stuff in European organic stores at a really good price. Nice packaging, some organic health story with it, and there you go; great birthday gift; sea salt from Lebanon.

What surprises me though is that everyone is up in arms about the oil spill, but you do not really hear much about the open quarries here these days. Entire hills are being scraped off, and end up in the cement industry. You can see it from far. It is extremely ugly, and environmentally can't be all that healthy either. I've never done a story on that, maybe it is time.

The road to and from Tripoli is a bit of a hassle these days – courtesy of the Israeli Air Force. You have to get on, then off, and then on and then off and then on and off again the high way, as every bridge had been bombed. Or you could take the old coastal road, which is much prettier in many ways, but very slow. Didn’t matter, had all day.

5 comments:

Laila said...

Hi,

How you have done this picture show? Any special software?

Laila from IRAN

Michael van Eekeren said...

Wat grappig (ja dat woord gebruikte jij zojuist op mijn blog) de Flintstones bestaan dus echt!
Ik zal 'ze' tzt beschikbaar stellen voor jouw blog.

richelle said...

My names richelle and im currently doing my senior project on oilspills. Do you think that you could email me this slideshow to richmarriot@yahoo.com

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