Brazilian Police Investigate Greek Tanker Operator Over Mystery Spill

The route of the alleged casualty voyage, suspected spill site in red (PF / Gerald Graham)

Published Nov 1, 2019 11:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

Brazilian law enforcement authorities are investigating a Greek tanker operator over an alleged oil release off the coast of northeastern Brazil. Heavy petroleum sludge has been washing up along a 1,500 mile stretch of coastline since August 27, and volunteers and troops have removed more than 2,000 tonnes of oily waste to date. 

Federal prosecutors secured warrants to search the offices of the ship's agent and the shipowner's oil pollution prevention contractor, and police executed the warrants Friday at offices in Rio de Janiero. Prosecutors suspect that one of the Greek firm's Suezmax tankers released oil on July 28 or 29 while transiting off Brazil on a voyage from Venezuela to South Africa. The ship then called in Nigeria and headed to Melaka to offload. 

The company involved denies the reports, saying that the tanker arrived at its final destination without issues and without any shortages. 

Laboratory tests run by state oil firm Petrobras and by independent researchers suggest that the spilled oil does not originate from Brazilian fields. The government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro previously alleged that it is of Venezuelan origin, but Venezuela denies any connection. 

A commercial satellite sensing company, HEX, was the first to detect the spill at sea and report it to Brazilian authorities. Federal investigators collaborated with the Brazilian Navy and outside experts to narrow down the number of possible source vessels. 

The tanker loaded with Venezuelan Merey 16 crude before departing on the voyage in question. U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports created difficulties for trading houses and tanker operators earlier this year, with millions of barrels effectively stuck aboard tankers in the Atlantic basin as recently as February.