TEL AVIV (Nov. 2)
Egypt’s continued detention of the Israeli tanker Nyuta is escalating into a serious diplomatic issue between the two countries.
Originally conducted at the consular level, Israel’s intervention for release of the vessel and its crew now involves Foreign Minister Moshe Arens, who telephoned Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid on Thursday.
The Israeli ambassador in Cairo, Shimon Shamir, has also been in contact with the Egyptian foreign minister.
The ship was arrested by Egyptian authorities on Oct. 21, accused of spilling oil in the Gulf of Suez. Its master, Capt. Zvi Yosef, 41, is expected to go on trial next Tuesday for polluting Egyptian waters.
The crew is confined aboard the ship, and their fresh water supply is nearly exhausted.
Israel’s minister of energy and infrastructure, Moshe Shahal, has offered the Egyptians financial guarantees against the immediate release of the ship and its crew.
Five crew dependents — two women and three children — were allowed to return to Israel Wednesday and criticized the way the Egyptians treated the ship’s company, especially the captain.
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The 25 crew members, all Israelis except for one Yugoslav, were released from detention ashore and have been confined to the ship, which is anchored in the East Zeid Bay oil port.
Capt. Yosef told Israel Radio in a telephone interview Thursday that “we’re in great distress. Our water’s almost gone, we have no more and they’re not supplying us with water.”
The captain added, “We expect the help of the State of Israel.
A spokesman for Israel Tanker Services, a government corporation which owns the Nyuta, said the corporation hoped to deliver cartons of bottled water to the crew and a water barge was due to refill the vessel’s fresh water tanks later Thursday.
Meanwhile, a partisan battle developed over the issue in the Knesset on Wednesday.
Shahal, a Laborite, tongue-lashed Likud Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for threatening that the government would abrogate Israel’s oil purchase treaties with Egypt unless the tanker was released immediately.
According to Shahal, Netanyahu was not authorized to make such a threat and “did the most irresponsible thing possible from the perspective of the State of Israel.”
Netanyahu later amended his statement by saying it was the Israel Tanker Services, which operates the Nyuta for the government fuel administration, that was considering canceling the contract.
The Nyuta is one of a fleet of tankers that carry Egyptian oil to Israel under contracts negotiated when Israel returned Sinai to Egypt.
The Egyptians charge it was responsible for a 60-square-yard oil spill while passing through the Gulf of Suez on Oct. 16.