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Spill of 6,000 barrels of oil in the sea contaminates Peruvian coast

Home / Travel Blog / Spill of 6,000 barrels of oil in the sea contaminates Peruvian coast
Spill of 6,000 barrels of oil in the sea contaminates Peruvian coast

A huge oil slick currently covers part of the sea and the central coast in Peru as a result of an oil spill that occurred on Saturday the 15th. The environmental emergency occurred when the Italian-flagged Mare Doricum Tanker was carrying out oil unloading operations. in the facilities of the Multibuoy Terminal No. 2 of the La Pampilla Refinery, in the hands of the Repsol company since 1996.

Birds and sea lions covered in oil, among other species of the sea, were sad evidence of the magnitude of the environmental disaster that occurred on the coast of the district of Ventanilla, in Callao —where the La Pampilla refinery is located—, and that has Extended to the National Reserve System of Islands, Islets and Points of Guaneras—Islotes de Pescadores and the Ancón Reserved Zone. The oil slick advances north of Lima. 

Miriam Alegría, president of the Environmental Assessment and Enforcement Agency (OEFA), reported that after flying over the impacted area with drones, it was determined that the hydrocarbon moved 18,000 square meters (1.8 hectares) into the sea. 

This is not the first environmental incident in which La Pampilla Refinery has been involved. Up to three times, according to information provided by the OEFA, it has been sanctioned with fines that together exceed 185 UIT (852,646 soles considering the value of the current UIT). The processes correspond to infractions committed in the years 2013, 2016 and 2018.

How did the oil spill in Peru happen?

The spill occurred during a discharge operation at the La Pampilla refinery, located in Ventanilla, a district in the province of El Callao, near Lima. Repsol, the operator of the refinery, attributed the event to "anomalous waves" produced after the eruption of the underground volcano in Tonga.

What caused the oil spill?

The spill occurred on January 15 when a ship was unloading the hydrocarbon at the La Pampilla Refinery of the Repsol company. The Agency for Environmental Assessment and Enforcement has imposed fines on this company on up to three previous occasions.

"Inaccurate" information from Repsol

“Although it is said that it can be cleaned, the damage is immense. In the first place because of its seriousness for the ecosystem and, secondly, because of the lack of an immediate response from Repsol, which minimized the situation,” Miguel Lévano, an expert in extractive industries at Oxfam Peru and coordinator of the subgroup on Oil Spills, explains to DW. of the Human Rights Coordinator (CNDH). 

Initially, Repsol would have informed OEFA that there had only been a "limited spill" of 0.16 barrels of black gold (about 25 liters) in a space of just 2.5 square meters. But the Prime Minister of Peru, Mirtha Vásquez, declared that, according to information provided by OEFA, Repsol had not only given inaccurate information, but also did not have a contingency plan for this type of emergency.

Impact on protected natural areas

The images of the fauna that survived the disaster are devastating. Oil-covered sea lions crawling across the sand; birds practically immobilized by a black blanket that covered them from head to toe, many of them being rescued by people who were on the Costa Azul, Bahía Blanca and Cavero beaches, in Ventanilla, where the spill began. 

Specialists from the National Forest and Wildlife Service (Serfor) went to these beaches to attend to the wildlife affected by the oil spill. On Monday the 17th they reported the rescue of three cormorants, a booby and a tendril that were taken to the Parque de las Leyendas to be treated. 

"The environmental impact of oil in the sea is very serious because, as it does not mix with water, it quickly spreads over the surface, initially damaging all organisms on the surface and the shores of the sea," says marine biologist Yuri Hooker. , director of the biology laboratory at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia. 

Hooker explains that an oil spill in the sea has devastating effects on three levels. The first impact is direct on seabirds and aquatic mammals such as dolphins, sea lions and otters, which need to breathe atmospheric air, as well as on surface fish, including silversides and mullets, and, above all, plankton. "These microorganisms are not only food for many species, but the eggs and larvae of almost all fish and invertebrates (shellfish) that live on the coast are found there." 

A second level of impact occurs on both sandy and rocky beaches. In this zone, called intertidal —explains Hooker— lives an enormous number of organisms that cannot escape the oil, such as muymuyes, little words, machas, road crabs and others, as well as starfish, sea urchins, anemones, mussels and a great diversity of snails and crabs that are on the rocky shores and die when hit by oil. In the rocks are also the dens of birds and sea otters. "The effect on the intertidal is catastrophic," he adds. 

Finally, a third level of impact —continues Hooker— occurs at the bottom of the sea, since the oil, which initially does not mix with the water, over time captures within its mass a large number of plankton and grains of sand. . "The oil becomes heavier and sinks like a rain of sticky droplets that adhere to the rocks and organisms on the seabed, as well as to the gills of the fish," says the marine biologist.

The problem of the fishermen

More than 500 artisanal fishermen are part of the Association of Artisanal Fishermen of Ancón (Apescaa), who for years have been organized to carry out responsible fishing that allows conserving the marine resources of the sea. 

“Our hands are tied,” says Avelino Ramírez, who is known as Muyumi, national coordinator of the Ancón-Isla de Pescadores Guano Islands and Points Management Subcommittee. “We have made a tour with authorities and conservation organizations to assess the damage to the sea and the bay that this spill has caused. Now we fishermen cannot work,” he adds.

 Avelino Ramírez comments that the oil slick has already passed the Ancón area and is heading towards the coast of Chancay, a province north of Lima. “As a fisherman, I am concerned about what is to come and the damage caused by the spill. We have seen penguins, guanayes, sea lions walking around full of oil grease”, he comments. 

Currently the docks located on the beaches that have been impacted by the oil spill remain closed, therefore, fishing activities have been suspended. 

But beyond the immediate problem that is affecting the economy of artisanal fishermen, Avelino Ramírez is concerned about the consequences that this spill will have on the responsible fishing and biodiversity protection work carried out by this association in Ancón Bay and the Zona Reserved Ancon. "All the work that was done for years has come crashing down," he laments.

21 beaches contaminated after oil spill

The General Directorate of Environmental Health (Digesa) recommended that citizens not go to at least 21 beaches in Ventanilla, Santa Rosa and Ancón that are contaminated after the crude oil spill in the Ventanilla Sea, as a result of the spill of barrels from the La Pampilla Refinery, owned by Repsol. These spas have been classified as "unhealthy", and therefore it is recommended not to visit them. 

Next, we present the list of unsuitable beaches in Ventanilla, Santa Rosa and Ancón: 

  • Ventanilla: Bahía Blanca, Costa Azul and Cavero.
  • Santa Rosa: Playa Chica, Playa Grande 1, Playa Grande 2, Hondable and Los Corales.
  • Ancón: Playa Ancón, Hermosa, Las Conchitas, Miramar 1, Miramar 2, San Francisco Chico, San Francisco Grande, D'onofrio, Casino Náutico, Enanos, Esmar 1, Esmar 2, Los pocitos.

Serious damage was avoidable

According to Ana Sabogal, an expert in environmental issues at the Technical University of Berlin and also a professor at the Catholic University of Peru, if the exact amount of spilled oil had been known from the beginning, the damage would have been "undoubtedly" minor and the oil It wouldn't have spread that far. 

“What has happened is disastrous. It should have been reported quickly about the magnitude. Many birds could have been prevented from dying”, laments Sabogal. Five days after a spill, adds the expert, the oil begins to mix in the sea and ends up sinking, affecting the fauna, not only birds on the surface, but also fish. As a result of the contamination, the Peruvian authorities have found dead dozens of seagulls, penguins and other marine species covered in oil. Others were rescued alive. 

Oxfam Peru expert Miguel Lévano criticizes that only when the oil reached the beaches did the authorities realize the magnitude of the problem: “This problem not only affects the ecosystem, but also the health of the population. There are many fishermen who have continued to fish in the midst of this damage, and that fish has reached the market. Also bathers, without knowing, continued to visit the beaches in the area. 

For its part, the oil company offers on its website its version of what happened and communicates the actions it has taken to repair the impact of the spill. "From Repsol, we regret not having adequately communicated all our commitments and actions carried out and assumed to address the impact generated by the oil spill in Ventanilla. We would especially like to convey our solidarity with all the people and populations affected, and express a special feeling for the natural environments and damaged marine species".

What does Repsol say about the oil spill?

The Communications Manager of the Repsol company, Tine van den Wall Bake Rodríguez, said that the company "did not cause the ecological disaster" in the Peruvian sea, and that they could not point out those responsible for this event that occurred on Saturday, January 15. , as a result of the spill of 6,000 barrels of oil from its refinery La Pampilla SAA. 

"The company is not responsible for the oil spill," she said on RPP TV. 

Being a question about the magnitude of the disaster, she pointed out that it was only the following day in the afternoon that they reported what had happened. 

"The first thing we saw was the iridescence in the sea and you didn't see a spill, but what the anomalous waves did was dump it 18 meters under the sea and then transport it away," she said. 

Although the Repsol manager was unable to point out which authorities she contacted on Sunday when the oil was already noticed, she did point out that the Navy Captain was aware of what had happened. 

It should be noted that according to the OEFA (Environmental Assessment and Enforcement Agency) the company reported the incident around 10 p.m. on Saturday, January 15, but had not indicated the real magnitude of the damage caused.

Peru announces "urgent and serious actions" to sanction the oil spill 

Pedro Castillo assured that the Government will assume "the role of punishing those responsible" for the oil spill from a vessel in charge of the multinational Repsol that has left millions of land and sea m2 covered with oil. The oil multinational had reported a much smaller spill than determined by the country's authorities and denies having caused the ecological disaster. Peruvian authorities could fine the company 35 million dollars. 

The Peruvian president assured that the State will carry out "urgent" and "serious" actions in order to punish those responsible for what he cataloged as one of the "largest ecocides" on the Peruvian coast due to the spill of crude oil in a terminal of the La Pampilla refinery, which belongs to the Spanish multinational Repsol. 

Legal actions and sanctions against the oil company 

In a statement, the OEFA stated that the company has two days to identify the areas affected by the spilled crude oil; 10 days to decontaminate the affected soil on the beaches; 5 days to contain and recover the hydrocarbon that floats in marine waters, among other provisions. 

Minister Ramírez pointed out that if these measures are not complied with, the company could be fined approximately 35 million dollars. 

For its part, the Public Prosecutor's Office of Peru reported that it will take legal action and demand compensation for those determined to be responsible for the spill. 

Meanwhile, the Lima Environmental Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation for the alleged crime of environmental pollution against the legal representatives and officials of the La Pampilla refinery.

The UN will send a mission of experts to Peru to assist the oil spill

A mission of experts on environmental disasters from the United Nations will arrive in Peru in the coming days to provide technical assistance on the spill of 6,000 barrels of oil that occurred last Saturday at the La Pampilla refinery in Ventanilla (Callao), operated by Repsol.

The UN added that this mission will also carry out an approach to effective actions to reduce the risk of future disasters and reaffirmed its commitment to continue supporting the Peruvian Government and people in this environmental emergency situation. 

In the same sense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Peru expressed itself, which through its social networks, detailed that the United Nations team of experts will be made up of technicians specialized in rapid environmental response, coordination and handling of incidents similar to the one that occurred, and planning and contingency for future occurrences.

Other places you can visit in Perú

If you were thinking of visiting Peru for the summer and diving into the beautiful beaches of Lima, here we give you other options that you can visit if you travel to Peru in 2022. Among the best adventures you will find the Inca Trail Tours, the most famous pedestrian path in the Americas. After flying from the capital of Perú, Lima, you will arrive in Cusco to walk for four days along a path through forests and dense fog, millenary stone steps and discovering the ruins of ancient fortifications and Inca cities, and all the time enjoying majestic views. 

If you want to visit Machu Picchu, we recommend you to book your Machu Picchu Ticket in advance, so you will enjoy your Vacation in Machu Picchu without any problem. 

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