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  • Gustavo Driau

Perú coasts: oil spill cause ecological disaster

A Spanish oil company Repsol ship that was hit by the swell caused by the volcanic eruption in Tonga, thousands of miles away, spilled 264,000 gallons of crude oil off the Peruvian coast, 30 km north of Lima, on Saturday, January 15.

The company denies responsibility, saying that maritime authorities had not issued any warning of dangerous waves after the Tonga eruption. Unlike Chile and Ecuador, Peru had ruled out a tsunami from the Tonga eruption on Saturday, January 15. It did not warn of potentially dangerous waves until after flooding was reported in several Peruvian coastal areas.

The Peruvian government called the situation the worst ecological disaster in the city's recent history.

Ocean currents have dispersed the oil up to 40 km north of the spill. Twenty-one beaches have been closed, two marine reserves (protected islets) are threatened, and dozens of species are at risk of death from contamination. Peru's Pacific waters are famous for their biodiversity, thanks to the plankton-filled cold Humboldt Current that runs along their coast, supporting a chain of rich marine life, now damaged and killed.

The spill has affected hundreds of artisanal and poor fishers operating on the central Peruvian coast Thousands of families depend on fishing. They will face an economic crisis as they will not work for many months.

An important part of the Peruvian marine ecosystem and livelihood has been destroyed. The oil will be in the sea for months and affect wildlife, food, and health.

The cleanup task, which began on Tuesday, January 19, is complex and arduous. Workers deposit the contaminated sand on tarps, dragged to a pile inland, waiting to be moved to another site; the task will take several weeks, perhaps months.

The Lutheran Church of Peru has participated in social movements in defense of the environment of the Peruvian coast. The Good Shepherd congregation in Marquez has mobilized its members and organized to participate in campaigns to clean up the beaches, defend the coastal ecosystem, and public advocacy for justice and punishment of those responsible.

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