A worker in the cleaning tasks on the beach of Ventanilla, in Peru, this Tuesday, January 18. PILAR OLIVARES (REUTERS)
The Peruvian environmental authorities and hundreds of fishermen warned this Tuesday about the contamination of the sea and the fauna in two protected natural areas due to an oil spill that extends for the fourth consecutive day in the Callao region, central coast. According to the Agency for Environmental Assessment and Control (OEFA), crude oil affects some 18,000 square kilometers in the sea. The Environment Minister, Rubén Ramírez, assured Tuesday night that the spill would be 6,000 barrels of oil, and that the fine that the Repsol subsidiary could receive would amount to 138 million soles, about 35 million dollars. The spill occurred on Saturday at a terminal of the La Pampilla refinery, operated by Repsol, hours after the eruption of an underwater volcano in Tonga.
The company reported on Sunday that “the violence of the waves” occurred in the middle of the unloading of crude oil from the Italian ship Mare Dorium and that the “limited spill” was “quickly overcome” with brigades that “managed to control the incident.” However, residents of the Ventanilla district have been documenting in videos since the weekend the beaches covered in oil and the dying seabirds that they tried to rescue on rocks and shores.
The Navy did not issue a tsunami alert in Peru as the authorities in Ecuador and Chile did on Saturday, and only at night did they report the possibility of “anomalous waves”, after the death of two women who were walking along the shore was known. from a beach in a van that was swept away by the waves on the north coast, at the mouth of a river.
The National Service of Protected Natural Areas (Sernanp) reported on Tuesday that the oil spill has “compromised” the Reserved Zone of Ancón and part of the national reserve Sistema de Islas, Islotes y Puntas Guaneras, a refuge area for seabirds that produce guano, a natural fertilizer whose demand grew in 2021 due to the increase in the price of imported fertilizers.
According to the Sernanp, belonging to the Ministry of the Environment, this system is made up of 22 islands and eleven points between the coast and the ocean, which make up a conservation area for bird populations and maintenance of the biological diversity of the Humboldt Current. that is generated around the islands. In this nature reserve, birds, marine mammals and fish feed on anchovy. The agency said in a statement that it brought a cleaning team to support the work of removing the crude oil. Since Monday, veterinarians and specialists from the Forest and Wildlife Service (Serfor), attached to the Ministry of Agriculture, have rescued cormorants and other birds covered in oil and taken them to the Parque de la Leyendas, one of the capital’s zoos.
“We have found guanay birds, boobies, penguins, tendrils, and the otter mammal in greater numbers,” Pilar Ayala Rojas, a specialist from the Lima Forestry and Wildlife Administration who worked on the rescue on the coast, reported by telephone. “Yesterday we were on the beaches of Ventanilla -Bahía Blanca, Costa Azul, and Cavero, the latter being the most affected- and today, Tuesday, in Pocitas, Las Conchitas and the Ancón pier. In Las Pocitas there is evidence of a high percentage of oil in the water and in the rocky area,” added the fauna specialist.
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According to the Serfor Lima official, the animals they rescued were “totally smeared with oil on their beaks, plumage and legs: so they couldn’t move. In that case, an emergency bath was made with an anti-grease detergent and then we dried them in a closed environment and with temperature so that they do not suffer from hypothermia”, he explained. Ayala explained that the species that were unfortunately found dead had “remains of oil in the area of the sewers or peaks, possibly they have ingested contaminated material and have died from it.”
On Monday, the Specialized Environmental Prosecutor’s Office (FEMA) of Lima Noroeste opened an investigation for the alleged crime of environmental pollution against the legal representatives and officials of the La Pampilla refinery. This Tuesday, prosecutor Ariel Tapia toured the affected area in a boat and argued that “the high amount of oil in the sea, which is being obtained by suction in polyethylene sleeves, differs from the preliminary information obtained by the La Pampilla refinery, which indicated that seven gallons of oil were spilled,” FEMA said on Facebook.
The mayor of Ventanilla, Pedro Spadaro, assured that there are four kilometers of contaminated beach and questioned the damage control work carried out by the company. “15 people came with brooms and dustpans to try to clean the beach. They have gone to lunch and again the sea has taken care of dirtying that part that they had cleaned. There are four kilometers of absolutely black sea, dead animals that return to the shores. This is an attack against ecology,” he claimed on the Radioprogramas station. Hundreds of fishermen started a sit-in in the morning outside the Repsol subsidiary in Ventanilla and by 7:00 p.m. there were nearly 1,000 who were protesting the damage to their work, according to the state channel TVPerú.
At the end of the afternoon, the La Pampilla refinery reported that it had installed “1,500 meters of containment barriers that cover all the affected areas” in the sea and that personnel in six boats had been recovering the crude.
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