The Spanish oil company Repsol faces tough questions, from the government and practically all sectors of the country, to possible economic and even criminal sanctions and to a probable international lawsuit, due to the oil spill in the sea off the Peruvian coast and due to its slow and inefficient reaction. The spill of six thousand barrels of oil on the coasts of Lima and El Callao, a port adjacent to the Peruvian capital, has caused the biggest ecological disaster in the country in many years. It has also been a severe economic blow to artisanal fishermen and merchants whose income revolved around the 21 beaches affected and now closed. President peter castle He has assured that his government will not let what happened go unpunished.
Repsol, which operates the country’s main refinery, La Pampilla, would be fined, according to the regulations, with 138 million soles (about 35 million dollars), a figure considered lower compared to the damage caused. But this fine would not be the only sanction. The Prosecutor’s Office has initiated an investigation of the company for the crime of environmental pollution, which could end in criminal proceedings. Lawsuits could also be filed demanding compensation for the millionaire damages caused, even at the international level, a possibility that the Minister of the Environment, Rubén Ramírez, has advanced. The tanker from which the oil was unloaded, under the Italian flag, has been immobilized by the authorities.
Thursday, President Castillo was in the ecological disaster zone. “Here we cannot shy away from responsibilities, it is about assuming them, in this case the company that caused the ecological disaster,” said the president, with the bottom of the beach and the sea covered in oil, and in front of outraged fishermen and residents of the zone that demanded a sanction to the company and reparation for the damages caused, the ecological and the economic ones.
“We condemn the environmental disaster caused by the La Pampilla refinery, run by Repsol. The ecological damage to our coastline is inadmissible. From the State, criminal, civil and administrative actions have been arranged in order to protect the sovereignty and well-being of the country,” the president said on Twitter. In two other messages sent by the social network, he insisted on his government’s decision not to leave what happened without sanction: “We are facing one of the largest ecocides that have occurred on our coasts and sea. The government assumes the role of sanctioning those responsible for the damage that tragically affects the flora, fauna and communities that are endangered and deprived of their daily sustenance. We will take urgent and serious actions at the height of our history and these facts. We will not let them trample our ecosystems and the honor of our people with impunity.”
What caused the spill?
The spill occurred on the afternoon of Saturday the 15th when crude was being unloaded from a tanker to the La Pampilla refinery through underwater pipelines. The company does not assume responsibility for what happened and has blamed strong waves as an effect of the eruption of the submarine volcano in Tonga. But that version has been questioned. Sailors who were close to the tanker at that time have assured that the sea was calm in that area. The Supervisory Agency for Investment in Energy and Mining has issued a preliminary report in which it does not speak of strong waves and does not rule out a bad maneuver of the ship.
The company is not only questioned for the causes that caused the spill, but for its conduct once it occurred. In the first moment minimized the magnitude of the spill in informing the authorities, and their response has been late and insufficient, which has aggravated the situation. The day after the spill, when wide expanses of sea and beaches were already covered with oil, what was seen were some Repsol workers, workers from the municipalities in the area and many volunteers, enthusiastic but poorly equipped and not trained for this task. , cleaning the oil from the beaches with brooms, mops and rakes, and collecting it in barrels, drums or plastic bags. All very handmade, precarious. When the oil had already spread, some meshes were recently placed in the sea to contain it, but they were clearly insufficient, and some special hoses were seen to extract the crude. A week after the spill, the oil already covers 7.1 thousand square kilometers of sea and 1.8 thousand square kilometers of beaches, and continues to spread through the sea to the north of Lima.
“It’s a great sadness”
Looking at the sea in which he has lived for many years, now black with oil and turned into a dead sea, an old fisherman seems not to believe such misfortune. “All this is contaminated, nothing from where we fished has life, it is a great sadness, I have even cried to see our sea like this. Please help me”, is his dramatic testimony.
About two thousand artisanal fishermen and hundreds of merchants in the area have been economically affected by the impossibility of continuing to fish and the closure of the beaches in the summer. They have mobilized to protest in front of the La Pampilla refinery. They demand that the company assume its responsibility and repair them for having left them without their source of work.
The government has declared the area an environmental emergency for 90 days and has formed a Crisis Committee to remedy the damage caused, determine responsibilities and see what is related to reparations and compensation. The arrival of experts from the United Nations has been announced to support the Peruvian government. Scientists agree that the ecological damage is immense. “Recovery is going to take years, we are talking about ten, twenty years, for this ecosystem to return to what it has been,” says David Huamán, of the Forest and Wildlife Service. Other specialists estimate that this time could be longer and that there would be irreparable damage.