Peru on Saturday declared an “environmental emergency” along a stretch of coast hit by an oil spill caused by a volcanic eruption in the South Pacific.
Along with the 90-day decree, the government said it is planning “sustainable management” of 21 beaches that had 6,000 barrels of oil spilled from a tanker ship at a refinery last Saturday.
That accident followed a surprisingly powerful eruption of an underwater volcano near the nation of Tonga, unleashing tsunami waves around the Pacific and as far away as the United States.
In Peru, oil spills near Lima have contaminated beaches, killed birds and harmed the fishing and tourism industries.
Refinery asked to pay
The government is seeking damages from the Spanish energy giant, the owner of the refinery.
The environment ministry said 174 hectares, equivalent to 270 football fields of sea, beaches and natural reserves, were affected by the spill.
Employees are busy cleaning up the mess.
Declaring the emergency on Saturday, the environment ministry said: “Dispersion amounts to a sudden event of significant impact on coastal marine ecosystems, which have major biological diversity.”
It said Repsol is responsible for emergency clean-up operations in the short term.
Its refinery is in the city of Ventanilla, near Lima.
Repsol said the leak was caused by a tsunami triggered by an explosion in the Pacific Ocean.
The company is arguing that it is not responsible for the leak because it says the government has not given any warnings that rough waters could be caused by that underwater explosion around the world.
Last week, fishermen and other locals living away from the sea and tourism staged protests over the sudden loss of their livelihoods.