Peruvian oil spill confirmed to be result of Tonga volcano

An oil spill at a refinery more than 6,000 miles from the South Pacific island eruption has been described as an ‘ecological disaster’.

An area of around 18,000 square kilometres has been devastated by the slick, with animal and plant life harmed as a result. Significant sections of the waters are in zones that were under protection, with coastline and fishing regions also severely impacted. Around 1,000 artisanal fishers are said to depend on the local ecosystem, which is home to high levels of marine biodiversity.

A tanker unloading crude at Spanish oil company Repsol’s La Pampilla facility is thought to be the source of the spill. Unusually large waves resulting from the huge undersea volcanic explosion in Tonga, 10,000km across the Pacific, hit the vessel, resulting in the contents of 6,000 barrels leaking into the ocean.

The Peruvian government has now called on the company to pay for the clean-up operation, which is expected to be both lengthy and costly. However, Tine Van Den Wall Bake, a spokesperson for Repsol, told national broadcaster Radio Programas del Perú (RPP) the company did not need to accept responsibility, stating: ‘We did not cause this ecological disaster and we cannot say who is responsible.’  

‘This is the worst ecological disaster that has occurred around Lima in recent times and has seriously damaged hundreds of fishermen’s families. Repsol must immediately compensate for the damage,’ a tweet from Peru’s Attorney General read. An official investigation is now underway, with a fine of up to $34.5million possible. Energy and mining regulator Osinergmin has also ordered operations at the refinery, Peru’s largest, to cease pending the inquiry. This in itself has the potential to cause more disruption, with more than half the local fuel market supplied by the site.  

In February 2021, Environment Journal published a long-read feature explaining why all forms of ocean pollution pose a clear danger to humans.

Photo credit: Max Gotts




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