By Marco Aquino
LIMA, Jan 20 (Reuters) – Peruvian President Pedro Castillo declared an environmental emergency on Thursday as clean-up teams struggled to contain a huge oil spill at the country’s biggest refinery, after rogue waves rocked a ship unloading crude there.
The spill, blamed on unusual swells caused by a volcanic eruption thousands of miles away in Tonga on Sunday, has dirtied waters and beaches along Peru’s Pacific coast, with dead birds and seals washing up on shore.
“We are at a critical moment in environmental matters,” said Castillo, before signing the emergency decree on one of the beaches hit by the spill. “This is the most worrying ecological disaster on the Peruvian coast in recent times.”
“We cannot shy away from responsibilities, it is about assuming them, in this case the company that caused this ecological disaster,” he added.
A spokeswoman for La Pampilla refinery, owned by Spanish energy firm Repsol, has said the firm was not responsible for the spill and blamed the Peruvian Navy for not issuing a tsunami warning after the Tonga eruption.
Peruvian authorities were the only ones to warn of unusual waves, and this was unlike other Pacific countries.
Ruben Ramirez, Environment Minister has stated that about 6,000 barrels of crude oil were emitted in the incident which left oil on 21 beaches.
Peru’s Agency for Environmental Assessment and Enforcement (OEFA) said in a statement that as of Thursday the area affected included 1.7 million square meters of land and 1.2 million square meters in the sea.
Repsol stated in a statement that it was investigating underwater damage from the spillage and had deployed more than 2500 meters of containment booms, as well as 10 boats to recover oil.
“We regret not having adequately communicated all our commitments and the actions that have been carried out to address the impact,” Repsol said, after facing criticism for its response. (Reporting by Marco Aquino, Writing by Carolina Pulice and Editing by Alexandra Hudson
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