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Ferry Companies Assist After Volcano Shuts Down Air Travel to La Palma

la palma
Ash cloud

Published Sep 27, 2021 3:20 AM by The Maritime Executive

The volcanic eruption on the Spanish island of La Palma has grown and intensified over the past week. Over the weekend, the ash cloud grew heavy enough to force the island's airport to close, leaving sea transport the only option for travel and resupply. 

Three shipping companies - Naviera Armas Trasmediterránea, Boluda and Fred. Olsen Express - have stepped up their services in response. Boluda is offering its reefer containers for charitable relief, helping local banana producers keep their products chilled after an emergency harvest. Fred Olsen is launching regular round-trip voyages between Tenerife and La Palma - a service it does not typically offer - with three sailings a day to ensure continued transport connections. The runs will continue at least through Wednesday to "cover the transportation needs of emergency agencies, authorities, donations, and volunteers," the firm said. Naviera Armas Trasmediterránea is also adding extra sailings to and from La Palma to provide more capacity. 

The ash has affected a wide swath of La Palma, but the eruption area is confined to the vacation town of Llanos de Aridane, on the island's west side. As of Monday morning, the damage tally from the lava flow stood at 514 buildings destroyed; 55 more damaged; 11 miles of road overrun; and 575 acres of land covered by solid rock. Six thousand people have been evacuated as a precautionary measure, and no fatalities have been reported.

According to the island's government, the flow has approached within a mile of the coast and is advancing at a rate of about 300 feet per hour. If it reaches the sea, it will react with salt water to form a noxious mixture of steam and gas known as "laze," shorthand for "lava haze." Laze contains toxic components like hydrochloric acid and volcanic ash, which are hazardous to human health. Given the risk, a maritime traffic exclusion zone in the vicinity of the eruption remains in effect. The Guardia Civil's maritime service is enforcing the zone's perimeter.