Repsol Comes Under Fire for Response to Lima Oil Spill

oil spill peru
Beach cleanup operations near Lima (Peruvian Ministry of the Environment)

Published Jan 19, 2022 4:40 PM by The Maritime Executive

Leaders from across Peru's political spectrum have united in calling for strict penalties for oil company Repsol after a major oil spill off the coast of Lima last weekend. 

The spill occurred Saturday when unusually powerful wave action - driven by the volcanic eruption and tsunami event in Tonga - struck the coast of Peru. At the time, the Suezmax tanker Mare Doricum was unloading a shipment of Brazilian crude oil at one of the La Pampilla refinery's offshore mooring buoys, and a quantity of the cargo was released.

The spill has coated miles of beaches near the nation's capital, as well as the shores of an environmentally-sensitive marine reserve and a seabird sanctuary. Peru's Foreign Ministry has declared it "the worst ecological disaster" to hit Lima in recent times, and it called for Repsol to pay compensation immediately. “This terrible situation has endangered the flora and fauna in two protected natural areas of more than 18,000 square kilometers,” the ministry wrote.

According to Congresswoman Adriana Tuleda of the right-leaning Avanza Pais party, Repsol has officially reported that the quantity of oil spilled was just 0.16 barrels, or about seven gallons. However, Peru's Agency for Environmental Assessment and Enforcement (OEFA) estimates that the quantity of oil released was about 38,000 times higher (6,000 barrels). In a statement, Tuleda called the discrepancy "unacceptable" and called for "strict" sanctions on the company.

Members of Peru's far-left Free Peru party have called for the government to reconsider or retract its contract with Repsol after the spill. 

“According to article 68 of the Political Constitution of Peru, the state is obliged to promote the conservation of biological diversity. It is timely to review contracts and determine the sanction of those responsible for the pollution of our sea," said Free Peru member Congressman Waldemar Cerrón Rojas in a statement. 

On a dedicated crisis-response website, Repsol said that it is assisting with cleanup efforts, as required by an order from Peru's Ministry of the Environment. However, the mayor of the town of Ventanilla told Exitosa that he was "outraged" by the level of assistance Repsol has provided: by his account, the oil major has dispatched a force of 15 people to manually clean up a beachfront of about two and a half miles in length. 

“This is a mockery, it is not possible that nothing has been done in three days. The oil is already [12 inches] below the sand,” Mayor Pedro Spadaro told the outlet. 

As for the tanker, the Mare Doricum remained anchored off the coast of Lima as of Wednesday. Her operator, Italian ship management firm Fratelli D'Amico, told Shipping Italy in a statement that the vessel was undamaged and safe.