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Peru demands compensation for catastrophic oil spill caused by Tonga volcano | Peru

Peru has demanded compensation from Spanish oil giant Repsol after freak waves from a volcanic eruption near Tonga caused an oil spill described as the worst ecological disaster to hit the South American country in recent history.

Peruvian Prime Minister Mirtha Vásquez told reporters on Wednesday that the Pampilla refinery operated by Repsol "apparently" did not have a contingency plan for an oil spill.

The country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on the company to "immediately compensate" for the damage caused by the spill on Saturday, which had caused "serious damage to hundreds of fishing families" and had "endangered flora and fauna" in two protected natural areas.

Authorities blocked three beaches Monday after 6,000 barrels of oil were spilled during the unloading of a tanker at the La Pampilla refinery off the coast near Lima, just north of the capital Lima.

Cleaning crews are working to remove oil from a beach in the Peruvian province of Callao
Cleaning crews are working to remove oil from a beach in the Peruvian province of Callao on January 19, 2022 following a spill that occurred during the unloading process of the Italian-flagged tanker "Mare Doricum" at the La Pampilla refinery caused by the abnormal waves, which was recorded after the volcanic eruption in Tonga. Peruvian authorities blocked three beaches on Monday after 6,000 barrels of oil were spilled, and on Wednesday demanded compensation from Spanish energy giant Repsol for the oil spill. Photo: Carlos Mandujano / AFP / Getty Images

Images on social media and television showed black beaches and dozens of dead seabirds soaked in oil, among them the rare Humboldt penguin, in an area considered a hotspot for marine biodiversity.

Refinery officials, led by Repsol, initially described the spill as "limited" and said it was working with authorities to clean up the beaches.

However, there has been public indignation over what has been perceived as the company's late reaction.

Tine Van Den Wall Bake, a spokeswoman for Repsol, denied that they were responsible for the incident.

"We have not caused this ecological disaster and we can not say who is responsible," she told national radio on Wednesday.

An artisan fisherman keeps a dead bird covered in oil
A fisherman from a community affected by an oil spill on the beaches of the Peruvian province of Callao caused during the unloading process by the Italian-flagged tanker "Mare Doricum", holds a dead oiled bird in a protest on January 19, 2022 in front of Pampilla Oil Refinery , responsible for the accident due to abnormal waves recorded after the volcanic eruption in Tonga. Photo: Cris Bouroncle / AFP / Getty Images

Environmental groups have criticized the company's response, as well as the Peruvian authorities' response. The oil spread along Peru's Pacific coast, affecting seabirds, gulls, terns, sea lions, otters and dolphins, Oceana Peru said in a tweet.

"The environmental and social consequences of the Repsol oil spill in the short and long term are devastating, and the company's response has been weak," said Christel Scheske, a nature conservation specialist at the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law.

"The oil spill has affected a very biodiverse part of the Peruvian coast, including two protected areas, which are important not only for Peru's astonishing marine biodiversity, but also for over 1,000 artisanal fishermen in the region who depend on them," she said.

A bird is depicted on a beach during a cleanup
A bird is depicted on a beach during a cleanup Photo: Pilar Olivares / Reuters

"Heavy metals from crude oil will remain in the ecosystem for many years, making fish, molluscs and other marine species dangerous to human consumption and affecting the entire marine food network," Scheske added.

The refinery could face a fine of up to $ 34.5 million, Peru's environment ministry said Monday when prosecutors opened an investigation into the company for environmental pollution.

In a tweet, the public prosecutor's office said that the spill "is the worst ecological disaster in Lima in recent times and has caused serious damage to hundreds of fishing families. Repsol must immediately replace this damage."

The energy and mining regulatory body Osinergmin has ordered the suspension of operations at the refinery pending an investigation into the causes of the spill.

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