(Photo: OCHA/Marc Belanger)
IPS Noticias (translation to English by Carmen de los Rios)
This article (with some updates) was shared by the Conferencia de Provinciales en América Latina y el Caribe (CPAL) on the extent of the economic and ecological impacts of the oil spill in Peruvian waters on 15 January 2022, causing widespread damage and contamination and affecting the lives and livelihood of coastal communities and biodiversity. As clean-up operations proceed, the long-lasting effects of the spill are felt most by local communities that depend on fishing for food and livelihood. In light of such disasters where the most vulnerable experience the brunt of the socioeconomic and ecological impacts, it is crucial that their voices and concerns are amplified in critical global discussions such as the upcoming UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal on 27 June to 1 July, while calling for greater corporate accountability on loss and damage.
The oil spill on 15 January off the coast of Peru impeded fishing and tourism activities in the area, and will have prolonged effects on species of marine fauna, UN experts reported. “The impact on wildlife and natural resources has hit local communities the most, especially families and individuals that rely on fishing and tourism-related activities as their means of livelihood,” the report stated. The study was carried out by the UN Environment Program (UNEP), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and the UN Resident Coordinator. The UNEP-OCHA report, Peru: Environmental Emergency, After the Spill as of 24 February 2022, can be accessed here.
On 15 January, the Italian oil tanker “Mare Doricum” was unloading and transporting crude oil to the Repsol Refinery, La Pampilla, in the coastal town of Ventanilla, approximately 20 kilometers northeast of Lima, the Peruvian capital. Repsol SA is a Spanish energy and petrochemical company based in Madrid with Euro 52 billion (US$ 57 billion) in revenues in 2021. Repsol initially attributed the spill to strong waves caused by the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano near the island state of Tonga on 15 January, which toppled barrels containing crude oil during unloading operations.
Around 11,900 barrels (at least 1.4 million liters) were spilled into the sea, affecting 21 beaches and in what was identified as the worst ecological disaster in Peruvian history, the spilled crude oil covered more than 1,400 hectares of land and sea, 500 hectares of marine fauna reserves in protected natural areas, and contaminated over 140 kilometers of coastline. (In a 29 January report of the Environmental Assessment and Enforcement Agency of the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment, 11,637 hectares are affected, equivalent to about 16,390 football fields. The final impact on the ocean and shoreline is still for consolidation.)
The Peruvian Ministry of the Environment declared a 90-day environmental emergency in the affected areas. It is estimated that around 1,500 artisanal fishermen who rely on catching shellfish in the Pacific waters for their livelihood are among the first affected. There were 21 beaches also contaminated, leading to the closure of restaurants and other businesses in Ventanilla and Ancón. The spill ultimately affected the lives and livelihood of thousands of merchants and other service providers.
Along with the bags containing collected crude oil, the clean-up teams found numerous perished species of fish and birds along the coast, some of which are critically endangered such as the Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti).
Peruvian authorities imposed a fine of US$5 million on Repsol in light of the damages resulting from the spill and initiated legal actions against the company and its insurer.
According to the company, around 67% of the spilled crude oil was collected by mid-February.
The UN mission stated that a comprehensive analysis of the affected population should be carried to guarantee “communication mechanisms and participation of affected communities in the undertaking of socioeconomic recovery plans.” The report also stated that “it is necessary to implement an environmental monitoring plan to determine the reopening of tourism activities and safe consumption of marine products.”