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High waves from an underwater volcanic eruption in Tonga on January 15 caused an oil spill along the coast of Peru, Reuters reported the Peruvian environment minister, Ruben Ramirez, as saying.
According to the Peruvian Civil Defense Institute, the spill occurred on January 16 when a ship was unloading crude oil at the La Pampilla refinery.
The La Pampilla refinery, considered Peru’s main processing plant, is owned by a Spanish company called Repsol, Associated press (AP) reported.
The eruption caused a 1.2 meter tsunami wave
The earthquake caused by the eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano recorded a magnitude of 5.8.
The eruption lasted eight minutes and caused a 1.2 meter tsunami wave in Tonga’s capital 64 kilometers away, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology.
The sonic boom from the eruption was audible even in Alaska, the University of Alaska Geophysical Institute.
Strong waves generated by the eruption rocked the vessel that was unloading the crude oil, allegedly causing it to spill.
6,000 barrels of crude oil spilled
Initially, the amount of oil spilled into the ocean was unclear.
However, Bloomberg reported that the tanker was carrying nearly one million barrels of Brazilian crude oil.
January 19, The Guardian reported that 6,000 barrels of crude oil had spilled into the ocean.
According to Ramirez, the oil spill damaged at least two and a half kilometers of the country’s central coast.
The minister added that the oil spill affected two beaches and authorities had to cordon off the coast to the public since January 16, Reuters reported.
“I see there is a serious impact on the coastal marine area,” Ramirez said, adding that the oil spill was “unfortunate”.
The Environmental Law Assessment and Enforcement Agency (OEFA) said it had opened an investigation to determine who was responsible for the spill.
PM requested for compensation
Peru had asked Repsol for compensation for the oil spill.
The Guardian reported that Peruvian Prime Minister Mirtha Vásquez said the refinery did not have a contingency plan in place in the event of an oil spill.
The Peruvian Foreign Ministry had also asked Repsol to “immediately compensate” the damage caused by the oil spill.
The ministry added that the spill had caused “serious damage to hundreds of fishing families”.
They added that the spill had endangered the flora and fauna of two protected natural areas.
The refinery denies any responsibility
The refinery said in a statement earlier that the “violence of the waves” caused a “limited (oil) spill” during the unloading of the vessel, Reuters reported.
In response to government inquiries, Repsol spokeswoman Tine Van Den Wall Bake denied that the company was responsible for the disaster.
“We did not cause this ecological disaster and we cannot say who is responsible,” she told national radio on January 19, quoted by The Guardian.
Peru’s environment ministry said on January 17 that Repsol could face a fine of up to $34 million (S$45.8 million) as prosecutors open an investigation into the company. .
The refinery has also been ordered to suspend operations by the country’s energy and mining regulator, while authorities investigate.
Drew flak from the environmental group
The company’s belated response drew criticism from the public and environmental groups.
One of them, the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law, had criticized Repsol’s “weak” response to the case, The Guardian reported.
Christel Scheske, the group’s conservation specialist, described the short- and long-term environmental and social impact of the spill as “devastating”.
“The oil spill affected a very biodiverse part of the Peruvian coast, including two protected areas that are important not only for Peru’s amazing marine biodiversity,” she said.
The spill also affected “more than 1,000 artisanal fishermen in the region who depend on it”, she added.
Scheske also said the heavy metals in crude oil “will stay in the ecosystem for many years” and make seafood in the region unsafe for human consumption.
Local fishermen protested
Local fishermen in the region had also protested outside the La Pampilla refinery in the province of Callao on January 19. PA reported.
They carried a flag of Peru, as well as signs reading “no to ecological crime”, “economically affected families” and “Repsol marina wildlife killer”.
The fishermen had asked to speak to company representatives, but AP reported that no one from the company had approached them.
Chief fisherman Roberto Espinoza said the oil spill is a “massacre of all hydrobiological biodiversity”.
“In the midst of a pandemic, with the sea feeding us, for not having an emergency plan, they have just destroyed a base of biodiversity,” he added.
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Best images via Oceana_Peru/Twitter and Getty images