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Peru declares 'environmental emergency' after oil spill

January 23, 2022

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.

An emergency worker in a white biosecurity suit cleans up a beach affected by the La Pampilla oil spill
The spill has polluted 2,384 cubic meters of sandImage: Martin Mejia/AP Photo/picture alliance

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?

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.

Workers clean oil at a Peruvian beach
Emergency crews in white biosafety suits are currently working to clean up Peru's beachesImage: Martin Mejia/AP Photo/picture alliance

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.

A worker checks the carcass of an oil-soaked bird
The spill has caused the death of local birds and other wildlifeImage: Martin Mejia/AP Photo/picture alliance

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.

sdi/fb (AP, AFP, LUSA, EFE)

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