Peru oil spill blamed on Tonga volcano spreads as investigation launched

LIMA, Jan 18 (Reuters) – An oil spill triggered by waves over the weekend after a volcano erupted in Tonga spread to several beaches north of Lima, authorities said on Tuesday, as prosecutors launched an investigation into a refinery of the Spanish company Repsol for the alleged crime of environmental damage.

The black mass of crude oil in the waters already affected the beaches of three coastal districts and, according to the prosecutor’s office, maritime contamination would have caused “the death of microbiological species and birds,” the Public Ministry said in a statement.

The Minister of the Environment, Rubén Ramírez, stated in a press conference that he has given the La Pamplilla Refinery company a period of two days to identify the critical points of the spill and immediately collect “the oily material” in the area of ​​the beach within 10 days.

“This is worrying because it is very difficult to remedy it,” he said. Ramírez said that the fines could reach up to 33 million dollars if there is responsibility for environmental damage.

Over the weekend, two people drowned off a beach in northern Peru, after abnormal waves were recorded in several coastal areas of the country after the eruption of an underwater volcano in Tonga in the Pacific Ocean.

The volcano’s eruption on Saturday prompted tsunami warnings, evacuation orders and caused huge waves in several islands and regions of the South Pacific.

Television images showed several birds covered in a thick black liquid and workers cleaning one of the affected areas. The contaminated beaches are from the districts of Ventanilla, Santa Rosa and Ancón, said Ramírez, who reported that the black mass now extends to about 3 kilometers.

The president of the Agency for Environmental Assessment and Enforcement (OEFA), Miriam Alegría, told reporters that according to the samples in the seawater and the soil, it has been possible to calculate in about 18,000 square meters of affected area.

“It’s a tremendous ecological disaster,” said the Mayor of Ventanilla, Pedro Spadaro, who visited the area. “We need an emergency to be declared, so that the armed forces can come and clean the entire beach with their machinery.”

The National Institute of Civil Defense stated that they already have the spill under control and the La Pampilla Refinery said in a statement on Tuesday that it has deployed more than 1,500 meters of containment barriers that cover all the affected areas and the crude oil is being collected according to to the protocols.

“It has been arranged that more than 200 people divided into crews with specialized equipment carry out remediation work on Cavero, Bahía Blanca and Santa Rosa beaches,” said the La Pampilla Refinery.

The company had reported on Sunday that “the violence of the waves” on Saturday in the area due to the eruption of the volcano generated a “limited spill” of crude while a tanker was unloading the product for the refinery.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino)

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