Captain Takes Blame For Galapagos Grounding

Thursday, January 25, 2001
The Ecuadorean captain whose tanker ran aground on the Galapagos islands took the blame on Thursday for an oil spill threatening the pristine ecosystem of British naturalist Charles Darwin's "enchanted isles."

Tarquino Arevalo, captain of the Ecuadorean-registered Jessica which last week fouled the Galapagos waters with oil after running aground, told Reuters he had misjudged his entry into the prophetically named Shipwreck Bay outside the tiny harbor of San Cristobal island.

"The truth is I didn't even know the rock was there. It was over-confidence on my part, I am completely to blame," the 58-year-old sailor said in an interview. "I didn't do it on purpose. This has nothing to do with my crew, it was my fault, not theirs," he added. The Galapagos are home to birds, tropical fish, sea lions and the famous Galapagos giant tortoises, but the only known damage so far to wildlife has been four dead pelicans and a dozen sea lions smeared with oil. About 50 animals were rescued from the Galapagos National Park and taken for inspection.

Harbor Master Peter Vallejo told Reuters that Arevalo, who slept on board for four days after the accident and needed hospital treatment for a gash on his forehead and dehydration, had not been arrested but would be interviewed with his crew. "He will have to be judged once the investigation is over. He has to remain at the disposition of the Harbor Master's office but he is not under arrest," said Vallejo.

The Galapagos Islands, administered by Ecuador, lie 600 miles off the coast in the southern Pacific Ocean. The Galapagos National Park preserves the creatures and their natural habitat, where they have evolved for thousands of years in isolation and with little human intervention. Arevalo, who had tears in his eyes as he spoke, pleaded for his crew of about a dozen sailors to be set free after giving their statements.

Arevalo, who was previously a Navy officer based in the Galapagos, could face a jail term of four to five years if charged, local police said. In the ocean off the ramshackle town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, ships from the Ecuadorean Navy were desperately trying on Thursday to attach cables to the stricken vessel, which was lying on its side amid rocks. Attempts to right the Jessica have been delayed by strong swells but the U.S. Coast Guard, aiding efforts to save the islands' ecosystem from further oil slicks, was due to try to suck out about 10,000 gallons (45,500 liters) left inside. A spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard, which is also assisting in efforts to refloat the vessel, said the swells made conditions "very treacherous". He said it was "a dangerous situation" and that safety was paramount. - (Reuters)

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