A state of emergency has been declared in Ecuador after a barge carrying hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel sank off the Galapagos Islands, likely causing an environmental disaster in one of the world’s most treasured natural destinations.
On Sunday, a barge carrying nearly 2,300 liters—or 600 gallons—of diesel fuel sank near San Cristóbal Island. Authorities quickly declared an emergency in order to contain the spill.
The extent of fuel that leaked from the ship still remains unclear, but images shared by Ecuador’s Ministry of the Environment and Coast Guard showed boats quickly responding to prevent the spill from spreading.
#SanCristóbal| El @parquegalapagos y @armada_ecuador colocan barreras de contención y paños absorbentes para reducir el riesgo ambiental por hundimiento de gabarra Orca, con 600 galones de diesel almacenados. Desde #SantaCruz se dispone el envío de material de contingencia. pic.twitter.com/nQ0aRVug8I
— Parque Galápagos (@parquegalapagos) December 22, 2019
The spill occurred after a crane collapsed while workers attempted to load a shipping container onto a small vessel called the Orca. In dramatic video of the collapse, the crane can be seen attempting to load the fuel-filled container onto the ship before it falls down onto the Orca, causing the ship to flip onto its side as the crew dives into the water for safety.
After learning about the accident, Environmental Minister Raul Ledesma tweeted:
“We are implementing immediate actions to reduce environmental risks due to the sinking of the Orca barge in San Cristóbal.”
The minister also ordered that the Galapagos National Park management, which is in charge of monitoring the fragile biodiversity in the archipelago, take any “necessary contingency measures to overcome these unfortunate facts.”
Soldiers and environmentalists deployed barriers and absorbent cloths to keep the fuel from seeping through the sensitive waters of the Galapagos chain.
On Monday, President Lenin Moreno claimed on Twitter that the spill was under control “thanks to the timely intervention of several institutions.” However, attorney Kristen Monsell of the Center for Biological Diversity told Newsweek:
“It’s horrific that a toxic oil spill was allowed to happen in one of the planet’s great ecological treasures.
Oil lingers in coastal ecosystems for years, killing wildlife and disrupting food chains, and it’s impossible to clean it all up.”
Esto pasó hoy en San Cristóbal, muelle El Predial- Galapagos pic.twitter.com/eEc5NfZLxP
— Eduardo Emanuele (@caedemmo) December 22, 2019
Legal authorities in the South American nation declared on Monday that they would open a criminal investigation into the sinking of the Orca on the grounds of Ecuadorean laws prohibiting crimes that contaminate or harm bodies of water. Those found guilty of crimes against the water could face prison sentences of up to three to five years.
El Comercio reports that Galapagos Attorney General Christian Farez Falconi has ordered an investigation, stating that “the fuel spill could have caused a serious impact on the sensitive ecosystem of this protected area.”
“Strong safeguards and rigorous enforcement are needed to prevent this from ever happening again. If we can’t protect a biodiversity hotspot like the Galapagos Islands from this kind of pollution, nowhere is safe.
There’s a dark symbolism to this Galapagos spill, which comes as fossil fuel pollution creates a climate crisis that will snuff out countless species around the globe.”
The Galapagos Islands is an archipelago that lays hundreds of miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. The island chain is known for inspiring British naturalist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and is seen as a “living laboratory” of inestimable worth to biologists.
The islands are home to many unique species of plants and animals, and the archipelago has been named a United Nations World Heritage site.
Image Source: Reuters