Peru Calls Oil Spill Caused By Tonga Eruption an ‘Ecological Disaster’
Peru has demanded compensation for an oil spill that has been dubbed an “ecological disaster” by the Peruvian government, Reuters reported. A tanker owned by the Spanish oil company Repsol was unloading oil at La Pampilla refinery when unusually high waves from the volcanic explosion near Tonga caused the spill.
More than 6,000 barrels of oil have been leaked by the refinery, many animals covered in oil have perished and three beaches affected by the spill have been sealed off by authorities, BBC News reported. Environmental group Oceana Perú said in a tweet that the oil along the Pacific coast of Peru was affecting species of birds, sea lions, otters and dolphins. Among the birds killed by the oil spill was a rare species: the Humboldt penguin, reported The Guardian. The foreign ministry said animal and plant life had been harmed in a combined area of nearly 7,000 square miles of protected zones, as Reuters reported.
The attorney general’s office said in a tweet that the spill “is the worst ecological disaster in Lima in recent times, and has caused serious damage to hundreds of fishing families. Repsol must immediately compensate for this damage,” The Guardian reported.
The oil spill was initially described as “limited” by refinery officials and Tine Van Den Wall Bake, a Repsol spokesperson, denied responsibility for the spill. Mirtha Vásquez, the prime minister of Peru, said that the refinery “apparently” had no contingency plan for an oil spill.
“We did not cause this ecological disaster and we cannot say who is responsible,” Van Den Wall Bake said on national radio, reported BBC News.
The response by Repsol and authorities in Peru has been criticized by environmental organizations.
“The environmental and social impacts of the Repsol oil spill in the short and long term are devastating, and the company’s response has been weak,” said conservation specialist from the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law, Christel Scheske, as The Guardian reported.
The environment ministry of Peru said La Pampilla refinery could face up to a $34.5 million fine, while prosecutors opened an investigation for environmental contamination by the company. The refinery’s operations have been suspended by Osinergmin, the Supervisory Agency for Investment in Energy and Mining, until the causes of the spill are investigated.
“Heavy metals from the crude oil will remain in the ecosystem for many years, rendering fish, molluscs and other marine species dangerous for human consumption, and affecting the entire marine food web,” added Scheske, reported The Guardian.