The Peruvian government has asked for international assistance in responding to an oil spill off the coast of Lima that it called the city’s “worst ecological disaster” in recent history, when oil Crude continues to wash up on beaches nearly a week after waves triggered by Tonga’s volcanic eruption disrupted operations at a local refinery.
The Environment Department estimates about 6,000 barrels of crude have spilled into a biodiverse landmass in Peru’s Pacific Ocean – more than the 7 gallons that the refinery operator, Spain’s Repsol, initially reported to authorities when the disaster struck last Saturday.
On Thursday, the Health Ministry warned that 21 beaches were a “serious health risk” and called on district authorities to limit access to them. The government said the oil slick on the sea’s surface spanned an area of water the equivalent of 320 football fields.
After outcry over the alleged inadequate cleanup, the government said on Thursday that it had asked experts at the United Nations and the US National Response Team to help ensure the company take appropriate remedial action and compensation.
“We are facing one of the greatest ecological disasters on our shores,” President Pedro Castillo said from a polluted beach on Thursday. “The state is readying criminal, civil and administrative sanctions.”
The environment minister said Repsol could end up paying a fine of about $36 million, accusing the company of failing to notify authorities in time and not accurately describing the extent of the incident. to spill.
Repsol said on Friday that it was conducting an internal investigation into the spill. “We reaffirm our commitment to respond effectively and transparently to the public and the authorities, prioritizing the people and the community,” the Spanish oil company said in a statement.
The oil spill has left hundreds of fishermen in poor coastal districts without work and threatened two protected marine reserves, where the rocky islands are home to sea otters, Humboldt penguins and cormorants red foot.
Peru’s Pacific waters are renowned for their biodiversity, thanks to the plankton-filled, cold waters that crisscross its shores, sustaining a rich array of marine life, from anchovies and dolphins to coral reefs. seabirds whose droppings – bird droppings – are collected and sold as organic fertilizer.
“We are watching the devastation of the Peruvian marine ecosystem and the livelihoods of the people who depend on it, and it really is,” said Juan Carlos Rivero, a marine biologist with the nonprofit Oceana Peru. scary. “Because neither the company nor the state has the capacity to respond.”
Repsol said the spill happened Saturday afternoon when an oil tanker unloading crude at its refinery, Pampilla, was rocked by strong waves caused by a nearby volcanic eruption. Tonga. The Italian shipping company that owns the tanker says an underwater pipeline at Pampilla’s terminal has suddenly broken in the process, and its crew promptly shut off the valve.
Unlike neighboring countries Chile and Ecuador, Peru ruled out a tsunami from an eruption in Tonga last Saturday and did not warn of potentially dangerous waves until flooding was reported in one area. number of coastal areas. In northern Peru, two women drowned when large waves hit a beach and swept them out to sea.
On Sunday, when Repsol first publicly acknowledged the spill, it described it as “limited” and said it had been “contained” thanks to its contingency plan. But by Monday, it was clear the company had underestimated its size and impact. Local television showed crude oil washing ashore at some beaches, with dead penguins and other seabirds covered in oil.
Repsol said on Friday that it expected to complete the cleanup of affected beaches and the maritime area by the end of February. The company says it has deployed 840 people, as well as outside cleaning and consulting firms, to help remove contaminated sand, with more than 1,500 cubic meters removed as of Friday.
Mr. Rivero, who visited the affected beaches this week, called the cleanup “extremely improvised.” He said he’s seen workers hired by Repsol trying to use trash cans, buckets, wheelbarrows and plastic bags to remove crude oil from beaches soaked in it.
The government said Repsol had offered to hire local fishermen to assist with the cleanup. Volunteers tried to assist, but many lacked proper protection and authorities said two people were hospitalized.
“The oil will stay under the sea for many months,” Mr. Rivero said. “It will affect our fauna. It will affect our food, it will affect our health, it will affect our beaches. ”
Raphael Minder Reporting contributions from Madrid.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/21/world/americas/peru-oil-spill-tonga-tsunami.html Tsunami-induced oil spill in Peru Coast