Peru threatens Repsol with fines for oil spill from ecocide

The Peruvian government has said it plans to fine a subsidiary of the Spanish energy group Repsol for causing a devastating oil spill that blackened beaches near Lima and prompted the state to declare an “environmental emergency”.

Peru’s prime minister, Mirta Vazquez, told local radio on Monday that Repsol must face its responsibilities and pay for the spill that President Pedro Castillo has described as “one of the greatest ecocides on our shores and seas.”

“They can’t say they’re not responsible,” Vazquez said. “They are, so they have to think about the consequences.

Last week, Environment Minister Ruben Ramirez said the company would face a fine of about $ 34m. In addition, she will be forced to pay for the clean-up operation and may have to pay compensation to hundreds of fishermen, hoteliers and restaurateurs who have lost income as a result of the disaster.

The spill occurred on January 15, when the Italian-flagged tanker Mare Doricum was unloaded at the Repsol La Pampilla refinery, 30km north of Lima, the capital.

Repsol said the incident was caused by “sudden and extraordinary anomalous waves caused by a volcanic eruption in Tonga.” The underwater eruption of the Tonga volcano Tonga Hongga Haapai caused a tsunami this month, which affected the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Aerial view of workers cleaning the oil spill off the coast of Peru

Aerial view of workers cleaning up oil spill off Peruvian coast © Carlos Reyes / AFP / Getty

The Spanish company described the event as an “unpredictable maritime phenomenon” and said it was not to blame. It is also said that the Peruvian authorities did not warn of high waves after the eruption of Tonga.

Repsol initially said the spill was small, less than a barrel of oil, but that estimate has been challenged in recent days. Ramirez said about 6,000 barrels of oil have been dumped into the ocean, putting it on par with Mauritius’ oil slick in 2020, when a Japanese tanker ran aground on a coral reef.

Repsol did not confirm this figure, saying it was still assessing the damage.

Saturday, Peru declared “environmental emergency”, which states that an operation is being carried out to clean and monitor 21 beaches. The decree will remain in force for 90 working days. Repsol says the cleanup will take at least until the end of February. The oil has spread about 40 km from the refinery.

Over the weekend, hundreds of workers in white suits walked through thick black oil on sandy beaches in an attempt to save wildlife.

Oceana, an international environmental NGO, said the spill was “devastating marine life off the Pacific coast of Peru, including guano birds, seagulls, terns, sea lions and dolphins.”

Peru’s trade and tourism minister has estimated the economic cost of the spill at least $ 50 million.

Last week, Repsol said it regretted “not adequately reporting” everything it was doing to clean up oil, but did not take responsibility.

The incident has become a hot political issue in Peru, which left-wing President Castillo elected last year. His government already had frosty relations with foreign multinationals, which it accused of not contributing enough to the state treasury.

Castillo visited the affected beaches and promised to bring the perpetrators to justice. Some politicians have called on him to close Pampila, the country’s largest refinery, and terminate Repsol’s operating contract.

Liberate Peru, the Marxist party that brought Castillo to power, Called to renegotiate the contract. He organized protests across the country on Thursday and a national march in Lima next Monday.

Hundreds marched through Lima on Sunday carrying a banner accusing Repsol of “ecocide.” Others headed for the refinery.

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