Lima, Jan 20 (EFE).- The area affected by an oil spill last weekend at a refinery in Peru operated by Spain’s Repsol exceeds 2.9 square kilometers (1.1 square miles) of ocean and coastline, the public agency tasked with monitoring the environmental impact of that disaster said Thursday.
In a statement posted on its Twitter account, the Environmental Assessment and Control Agency (OEFA), part of the Environment Ministry, said 1.74 sq. km of coastline and 1.18 sq. km of ocean have been affected.
An estimated 6,000 barrels were spilled, while the affected area is far more extensive than the 18,000 square meters (193,500 square feet) that were initially reported.
The OEFA estimates that a 50-km span of coastline was affected by Saturday’s oil spill, which has polluted 17 beaches and killed marine animals and birds along a stretch that runs from the Ventanilla district of Callao province (near Lima) to Peralvillo beach in the Chancay municipality.
The agency said it also demanded that La Pampilla refinery, which has been given 10 days to clean up the affected areas, provide an update Thursday on the progress of those efforts.
If it fails to meet that deadline, Repsol will be required to pay a fine of up to 460,000 soles (around $119,600).
Environment Minister Ruben Ramirez, for his part, said the government has launched an investigation and that the Spanish company could be subject to a fine of 138 million soles.
During a visit to one of the crude-covered beaches, Prime Minister Mirtha Vasquez said Repsol will hire artisanal fishermen temporarily unable to work after the disaster to assist with the clean-up and will deliver baskets of basic products to families in the affected areas.
Peruvian President Pedro Sanchez for his part has termed the oil spill, which occurred as crude was being transferred from a ship to La Pampilla refinery, the “worst environmental disaster in recent times in Peru” and called on Repsol not to “shirk its responsibility.”
On Thursday, he pledged the government would “sanction those responsible for the damage that is tragically affecting flora, fauna and communities that have been placed in danger and deprived of their livelihoods.”
He made those remarks a day after Repsol Peru’s communications and institutional relations manager, Tine van den Wall Bake, denied Wednesday in an interview with RPP Noticias that the company was responsible for the environmental damage caused by the spill.
She blamed the Peruvian navy for not issuing a tsunami warning in the wake of Saturday’s massive volcanic eruption in faraway Tonga, as neighboring Chile and Ecuador did.
On Thursday, Repsol issued a statement in which it said the oil spill “was caused by an “maritime phenomenon” the company could not have foreseen.
That eruption triggered a tsunami and caused large waves to move across the Pacific Ocean and destabilize the Mare Doricum tanker as the transfer of an oil shipment to the refinery was taking place.
The spill also has affected two natural reserves – Zona Reservada Ancon and Islotes de Pescadores – that are part of the Guano Islands, Isles and Capes National Reserve System, home to legally protected species like the Humboldt penguin and the sea otter.
Respol said in its statement that from the moment of the accident it activated its contingency plans, initially closing valves to halt the pumping of crude from the tanker to the refinery.
The company said it then deployed a team of divers to determine whether the sea bed was affected and put up more than 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) of containment booms.
It added that it also deployed 10 boats with 50-person brigades apiece to recover crude from the sea using suction tools and absorbent material.
Onshore, Repsol has dispatched 700 people, divided into several teams, to clean up crude that has coated the sand and rocks on beaches in Lima and Callao, including Cavero in Ventanilla, Callao.
The company said it is working in coordination with Peru’s National Forestry and Wildlife Service to help protect fauna after numerous crude-covered guano birds were found dead on beaches.