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Peru questions Repsol for not containing the oil spill in the sea

The oil spill at the terminal of a refinery operated by Repsol in the Peruvian sea has advanced from the district of Ventanilla -in the Callao region- north to the province of Huaral, in the Lima region, affecting some 50 kilometers of coastline and at least 1,739 square kilometers of sea, a figure that the environmental authorities will update on Wednesday night after touring the area. “It is one of the most important ecological disasters in recent years and it is generating a very serious impact,” said the president of the council of ministers, Mirtha Vásquez, at a press conference.

The spill of some 6,000 barrels of crude oil occurred on Saturday in an offshore infrastructure of the La Pampilla refinery, hours after the eruption of an underwater volcano in Tonga. The Prime Minister stated that the Government “is very concerned” because the company launched a first communication that “minimized the fact”. “They were talking about a fairly small spill, and it has been verified that they did not launch the corresponding public alerts so that the population and the authorities could take action regarding what was coming,” he indicated.

Citing information he received from the Agency for Environmental Assessment and Enforcement (OEFA), Vásquez said that Repsol issued inaccurate information but also, according to his version, it did not establish the magnitude of this spill, and therefore, it has not had the capacity to react. “That is why they are just talking about hiring a company that can do the cleaning. Four days have passed and the disaster continues to spread due to the lack of a contingency plan”, lamented the premier.

Tine van den Wall Bake, communications manager of the Peruvian subsidiary of Repsol, indicated that the discharge of crude oil from an Italian ship to the refinery's hoses began on Friday the 14th and that the following day they consulted with the Navy if there was any alert to the coast and, as this was not the case, they continued the operation.

According to the company's spokeswoman, the total cargo was 985,696 barrels of crude oil and 628,000 had been unloaded when the “abnormal swell” arrived on Saturday and “the starboard ropes broke,” she described to Radioprogramas on Wednesday. The company reported on Sunday in a statement that the “limited spill was quickly overcome.”

Asked by the radio if Repsol is responsible for the ecocide, Van den Wall Bake replied: “We did not cause the ecological disaster, we were unloading the day before.” “What you see at that time (Saturday) is iridescence, that's why a contingency plan cannot be put in place. The product traveled to the bottom of the sea and appeared the next day,” said the Repsol executive.

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The head of the OEFA, Miriam Alegría, commented to this newspaper that said entity is investigating whether the company really activated a contingency plan and placed control barriers as indicated in an emergency report to the environmental authority.

“Once the spread of the spill occurred in the contiguous areas (unloading the ship), it was a much larger spill and that implied that they contain the hydrocarbon in the sea. If the spill has dispersed, it is because the contingency plan has not been adequate: that is under investigation,” he explained. “We would not have the spill with this level of severity if there were adequate containment barriers. If it is not done in a timely manner (crude oil) continues to occupy adjoining beaches”, Alegría specified.

On Wednesday afternoon, after a meeting between leaders of seven fishermen's associations from Ventanilla, the ministers of the Environment, Energy and Mines, and Production, and representatives of Repsol, Minister Rubén Ramírez reported that the company has promised to hire the fishermen in oil cleaning jobs and to give them “subsistence baskets (of food)”. There are nearly 1,000 seamen in the district where the refinery is located and they will not be able to work for an indefinite period of time, while the cleaning and decontamination of the coast and the sea continue.

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