WWF statement on the oil spill off the coast of Syria

Posted on 01 September 2021

WWF is deeply concerned about the oil leakage that occurred in Syria about a week ago. This preventable incident will have immediate and long-term effects on coastal ecosystems and vulnerable communities in the area.
(ROME) An 800 km2 oil spill is threatening the coastline of Cyprus and Turkey, with potentially devastating consequences for marine biodiversity and ecosystems (as shown by recent satellite images analysed by Orbital EOS for WWF). The spill poses serious risks also for the communities and businesses that depend on tourism and marine resources for their livelihoods. This is the second major oil spill that has occurred in the region this year.

The spill originated from Syria, where, according to local reports, a rupture in a tank at the Baniyas Thermal Station led to large quantities of fuel being poured into the sea, and affected several municipalities that have already started cleaning procedures. The leaking tank was filled with 15,000 tons of fuel, according to the Syrian state news agency SANA.

The recent accident represents a further reminder about the major risks associated with hydrocarbon extraction and processing in the semi enclosed basin of the Mediterranean, which does not allow the dispersion of oil pollutants and where the consequences of such accidents can cause long-term negative effects on coastal ecosystems and communities.

Mauro Randone, Coordinator of the Sustainable Blue Economy Programme at WWF Mediterranean Marine Initiative said, “We urge all affected countries to act quickly and allocate funds so that an effective cleaning of the affected areas can be conducted to avoid further dispersion and contamination of pristine habitats and marine species. Mediterranean countries must take strong measures aimed at refitting and securing obsolete oil and gas infrastructures so that further incidents of this kind impacting vital ecosystems and vulnerable communities can be prevented.”
WWF urges Mediterranean countries to:
  • phase-out existing and ban new oil and gas exploration, extraction and processing projects in the region in a way that reflects the targets of the Paris Agreement, and ensure that no further investments are directed towards the oil and gas developments;
  • adopt a longer-term energy vision by setting clear targets for future energy use and exploring alternative energy sources to oil and gas; work with relevant international organisations to share  experiences and learn from other countries regarding energy supply, access and efficient use;
  • enforce stronger regulations to prevent such accidents, in particular through the ratification and effective implementation of the relevant Protocols of the Barcelona Convention (including the Offshore Protocol, Land Based Sources Protocol, Prevention and Emergency Protocol).
As shown in the analysis by Orbital EOS and images by ESA: 
  • The most recent estimated size of the spill is 800 square kilometres
  • The spill was drifting clockwise (North-East) and is heading towards the south of Turkey.
  • The nearest shoreline remains Cyprus (7km distance), where it is likely to reach  the Apostlos Andreas Cape. However we do not have reports of oil reaching the coastline as of today.  
  • There is increasing evidence of the damage along the Syrian coast ()
The optical image analysis reveals where the thick oil is located and also provides an estimate of the quantity of oil released at sea. The red areas indicate "thick oil", the blue areas indicate "thin oil".

For further information:
Stefania Campogianni, Communications Manager, WWF Mediterranean Marine Initiative scampogianni@wwfmedpo.org, +39 346 3873237
Satellite image of oil spill off Syria, August 2021
© Orbital EOS / ESA / WWF