Chilean Navy Reassesses Damage From Oil Tanker Spill

Wednesday, June 06, 2001
An oil tanker that ran aground in a remote southern Chilean fjord in late May spilled 92,600 gallons (350,528 liters) of crude, leaving an oil slick 70 miles (112 km) long and damaging wildlife and a salmon farm, the Chilean Navy said on Wednesday.

Maritime authorities initially dismissed the incident, which occurred on May 25, saying the leak had been negligible and had caused no damage to the environment. But the Navy on Wednesday admitted the spill was worse than first announced. "There is a slick measuring 70 miles," Commander Bernard Johnson, a spokesman for the naval district in the southern area of Chiloe, said. "Some birds have been found that had to be cleaned up and returned to their habitat."

The Panamanian-registered vessel Jose Fuchs, owned by Chilean company Ultramar, was carrying 13.5 million gallons (51 million liters) of crude from Argentina to the San Vicente port in southern Chile when the accident happened. The ship, which was damaged in the hull, later anchored in a small bay.

Storms hitting the zone after the spill broke the slick up into several patches, Johnson said.

Torrential rain and choppy waters in the isolated area, renowned for its intricate inlets and fjords, have also hindered the cleanup effort by local experts hired by Ultramar, he said.

Ultramar has not disclosed how much the cleanup will cost.

The full extent of the damage to fish and birds is not yet known but Johnson said the slick had reached the pens of one of the numerous salmon farms that provide the main commercial activity in the region.

It was not yet clear whether the affected salmon farm and local fisheries would file suit against Ultramar. Company officials were not available to confirm the information.

The state environmental agency (Conama), fishing industry regulators and ecologists are all investigating the impact on the environment but say it was too early to draw conclusions.

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