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Peru declares ‘environmental emergency’ after oil spill

Dead seals, fish and birds have washed up on Peru's shore covered in oil after the spill. A refinery blamed waves caused by the eruption of a volcano in Tonga.

By: Deutsche Welle |
January 23, 2022 10:23:03 pm
Workers continue in a clean-up campaign after an oil spill, on Cavero Beach in the Ventanilla district of Callao, Peru, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. The oil spill on the Peruvian coast was caused by the waves from an eruption of an undersea volcano in the South Pacific nation of Tonga. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

The Peruvian government on Saturday declared a 90-day “environmental emergency” in damaged coastal territories, after an oil spill that saw 6,000 barrels of crude oil pour into the sea.

Peruvian authorities say that this measure will allow for “sustainable management of the affected areas,” through “restoration and remediation” work.

Emergency crews in white biosafety suits are using shovels to remove the oily sand, which is then transported to toxic waste dumps.

How did the spill happen?

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The oil spill came out of a tanker belonging to the Spanish energy firm Repsol. The incident occurred at the La Pampilla refinery, some 30 kilometers (around 19 miles) north of the Peruvian capital of Lima in the Ventanilla district of the port city of Callao.

According to the refinery, the spill was caused by freak waves, which resulted from the eruption of a volcano in Tonga.

The Italian-flagged “Mare Doricum” tanker was transporting 965,000 barrels of crude oil when it was hit.

Currents spread the oil to distances more than 40 kilometers from the refinery, tarring some 21 beaches, according to Peru’s Health Ministry. The ministry recommends avoiding these areas, which it classifies as “unhealthy.”

What damage has the spill caused?

The spill has caused the death of marine wildlife and raised concerns around the livelihood of local fishermen and the economic consequences from the loss of tourism.

Repsol said that 2,384 cubic meters (84,190 cubic feet) of sand had been affected by the spill. The company said that it had organized more than 1,350 people for the cleanup efforts, and planned to add another 224.

On Wednesday, Peru demanded that Repsol compensate for the damage caused by the spill.

Peruvian legal authorities said that they were investigating the spill as a potential environmental pollution crime.

Repsol said it was not responsible for the spill as Peruvian maritime authorities did not issue warnings about a possible increase in waves.

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