24 Peruvian beaches now affected by oil spill

Lima, Jan 30 (EFE).- The Jan. 15 oil spill at a Peruvian refinery operated by Spain’s Repsol has contaminated at least 24 beaches along the country’s central coastline, according to the latest report by the Digesa environmental health and food safety directorate, which is part of the Peruvian Health Ministry.

In a communique released Sunday on the social networks, the agency said that so far 24 beaches have been affected by the floating oil that has spread from the La Pampilla refinery, located in the Ventanilla district in Callao province, all the way to Peralvillo beach, in the municipality of Chancay.

“The environmental disaster has continued to spread from the beaches of the Ventanilla district to the coasts in the district of Chancay, with reports being received of contamination of the water and sand at 24 beaches,” Digesa said, raising the number of damaged beaches from 21 – as in its penultimate statement – to two dozen.

The environmental catastrophe, which the Peruvian government has called “the worst ecological disaster” to have occurred in Lima in recent years, has already affected some 100 kilometers (62 miles) of coastline, with the oil slick now covering an area of approximately 11.9 sq. km (4.6 sq.mi.), both sea and coast, according to a report issued Friday by the Environment Ministry.

Given this scenario, Digesa urged regional authorities to restrict public use of the contaminated beaches until clean-up work can be done and recommended that the public not go to the zones affected by the spill since those spots “represent a serious health risk.”

According to Repsol, the amount of crude that spilled has been tallied at 10,396 barrels, a figure significantly higher than the 6,000 barrels the company had mentioned in previous days and slightly below the 11,900 barrels estimated by the Environment Ministry.

Initially, the Spanish firm reported that just 0.16 barrels (about 6.6 gallons) of oil had spilled.

Given the differing reports, the Peruvian Foreign Ministry on Saturday night accused Repsol of having “shown a probably deceitful attitude,” adding that the government “will announce (the imposition of) a drastic sanction” on the firm.

“Information about the true quantity of barrels of petroleum spilled at Ventanilla verifies the ecocide and reveals Repsol’s lack of transparency,” the Foreign Ministry said on the social networks.

As the appropriate authorities seek to determine the cause of – and those responsible for – the disaster, Repsol’s executive director in Peru, Jaime Martinez-Cuesta, has been forbidden from leaving the South American country for 18 months along with three managers and/or top officials with the firm.

In addition, Peru’s Agency for Environmental Assessment and Enforcement (OEFA) said that Repsol has failed to implement on time the first series of measures ordered to clean up the oil spill and warned that the firm is risking huge fines that could total 226 million soles (about $59 million).

Meanwhile, Repsol reported that so far it has recovered 35 percent of the spilled oil in clean-up operations being conducted on the sea and on the beaches, with the involvement of more than 2,000 people, dozens of seagoing vessels and more than 140 pieces of heavy machinery.

To support even more the clean-up activities, the company on Sunday reported that it is transporting to Peru by air more than 200 additional tons of equipment provided by the United States, Finland, Brazil, Colombia and Dubai and is investing more than 106 million soles (about $27.7 million).

“These include specialized equipment for containing and cleaning up natural areas, including 30 skimmers (for marine clean-up), 3,770 meters (12,365 feet) of additional containment barriers, 84,500 meters worth of absorbent materials and 30 storage tanks, along with other cutting edge equipment,” the company said in a statement.

EFE csr/rrt/bp

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