Lima, Peru — A nearly 100-mile oil spillage caused by an oil leak on Peru’s shoreline north of the capital city of Lima, the bishop of Callao, the port where the accident occurred, urged officials to repair the damage, and care for “our common homeland.”
Bishop Luis Barrera Pacheco, in a Jan. 23 message, asked that those involved “assume all their responsibilities” and “commit to the immediate solution to this enormous environmental damage that places life in danger.”
Jan. 15, when a tanker was offloading oil to a refinery, caused a tarry on beaches and wildlife. Barrera explained to Catholic News Service that the spillage would have a lasting impact on thousands upon thousands of people who depend on the fish they catch and the shellfish and crabs they gather along the shore.
He stated that these families already saw a drop in their income. “And once the seabed becomes contaminated, these products lose their market value and can be harmful to those who eat them.”
The cause of the spillage remains under investigation. Initial reports stated that the tanker was lurching and that a pipe burst due to unusually high waves from an underwater volcano in Tonga.
Two people died and several businesses were damaged in Peru’s coastal towns following an eruption by the ocean. Peru did not issue a tsunami alert, unlike Chile and Ecuador.
Repsol’s local subsidiary, Spanish-owned Repsol which operates the refinery initially downplayed the spillage, saying it was less than one barrel. They also blamed the Peruvian Navy not issuing a tsunami alert. Officials later estimated the spillage at approximately 6,000 barrels, and claimed that the company was slow to respond.
Barrera’s message stated that instead of arguing and avoiding blame, it was urgent to repair the damage done to the commons, beaches, and marine species that belong all Peruvians.
The spillage is affecting more than just fishing families. It also affects people who live near the oil slick and those with small businesses that rely on summer crowds to access the beaches, according to the bishop.
In a country with a low income economy, most people live on what they make each day. The consequences of losing a few weeks or months of income can be devastating. The Diocesan Critas office assists families in the poorest areas and is looking at how to address the long-term crises families will face.
Barrera stated that while we don’t yet see the greatest impact, in the long-term, we will see the effect on peoples’ income, lives, and health.
Politicians and civic groups have the opportunity to meet and discuss serious steps to clean up Callao’s environment. Residents of Callao’s neighborhoods are high-risk for lead poisoning from inhaling dust from the port’s ore-loading facilities.
Bishop Barrera wrote, “We need leadership by politicians so that disasters like these are not repeated.” “We appeal to public officials to adopt an integrated approach towards environmental issues and be mindful of the interrelated economic, social, and cultural dimensions of creation.