Galapagos Oil Spill

This is the chronological account of the Tanker Jessica, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos 17 January – 22 January 2001

17 January 2001

At approximately 22:00 local time (UTC -6) on January 16, 2001, the tanker Jessica, owned by Acotramar, ran aground at the entry to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island. The vessel was arriving from the port of Guayaquil on the Ecuadorian mainland, carrying 160,000 gallons of diesel destined to be delivered to the fuel dispatch station on Baltra Island, plus 80,000 gallons of bunker fuel (IFO), which were to be used to fuel the tourism vessel Galapagos Explorer. There has been no spill so far.

Coordinated action has been initiated between the Ecuadorian Navy and the Direction of the Galapagos National Park in order to prevent spillage while the vessel is being towed. Floating barriers have been placed around the ship to prevent any dispersion of fuel in case of a spill.

Sea conditions have been favourable, since waters remain calm. It is necessary to emphasize that no spill has been produced so far and efforts are directed towards emptying the fuel tanks, which has already begun.

January 18, 2001

The situation of the vessel Jessica, aground in Wreck Bay on San Cristobal Island, is worsening, considering that strong waves are expected for Sunday 21st or Monday 22nd, January.

The arrival of contingency crews of the Ecuadorian Navy and of the US Coast Guard is expected after a joint coordination effort carried out between the Galapagos National Park Service, the Ecuadorian Ministry for Environment and the US Embassy in Ecuador.

The vessel has listed to 25 degrees. This situation, together with a mistake made by the crew of the ship, has caused a spill of the bunker fuel that was being evacuated in a joint maneuvre of the Ecuadorian Navy and Petroecuador, the Ecuadorian state-owned oil company. Efforts to evacuate the fuel from the vessel have been hampered by Petroecuador, which seems to be more interested in rescuing the fuel without contaminating it with sea water instead of saving the unique flora and fauna of the archipelago.

Our efforts are aimed at control the bunker spill that keeps advancing; the Galapagos National Park Service has suggested avoiding the use of non-approved oil dispersants. It has also recommended that any fuel evacuation be accompanied by simultaneous filling of the emptying tanks with seawater to avoid further listing of the vessel; this however requires the prior approval of the Port Captain of San Cristobal.

A complete plan for monitoring the biodiversity in the actual and potential impact zone has been devised, in order to have baseline data available that will measure impact and determine mitigation actions.

January 19-20, 2001

On January 19, 2001, at about 17:30 local time a new bunker fuel spill was detected around the vessel. This spill was not related to the previous day’s mistake of the ship’s crew. This new spill, of approximately 2,000 (two thousand) gallons, was probably caused by a fissure in one of the vessel’s bunker fuel tanks (representing about 25% of the fuel contained in the ship), or by a faulty valve in the ship’s piping system. It is feared that this bunker spill will increase considerably during the next hours.

In the early hours of January 20, 2001, and considering that this new spill could not be contained by the booms that surrounded the vessel, the Galapagos National Park Service has initiated a mitigation procedure with more than 60 park wardens and the collaboration of the Charles Darwin Foundation. It is important to note that the effort has been joined from the very beginning by local fishermen, the tourism sector and the local population of San Cristobal. Mitigation activities include collecting the fuel disseminated on the water; rescuing wildlife like boobies, pelicans and sea lions (these being evacuated to the coast); and the building of corrals to keep the animals while the emergency lasts.

So far only 35,000 gallons of diesel out of 174.000 on board have been evacuated. Evacuation of bunker has been nearly impossible; the arrival of the contingency crews, confirmed for January 21 at about 09:00, is anxiously awaited. This special crew brings along the necessary technical equipment to evacuate as soon as possible the remaining fuel, as well as absorbing material and a inflatable tank with a holding capacity of 50,000 gallons.

It is also expected that in the afternoon of January 20 at about 17:00 local time, an Ecuadorian Navy aircraft will arrive at San Cristobal airport with additional dispersing and absorbing material.

According to latest data obtained by Galapagos National Park Service and Charles Darwin Foundation technicians at 13:45 hours of January 20, the size of the spill is undetermined,and is headed northwest at about one knot. Currently the spill is a few miles off Santa Fe island and it is estimated that is travelling towards the centre of the archipelago.

In what relates to the effects on the coastline of San Cristobal, it has been calculated that 5 to 10% of Wreck Bay has been directly effected, including seven sea lions and approximately 15 birds (pelicans and blue footed boobies). Galapagos National Park staff is treating these animals to avoid their death.

The latest update, received at 15:30 hours local time, indicates that the situation in San Cristobal remains unchanged. The spill is slowly leaving Wreck Bay due to the wind and prevailing ocean currents without effecting major wildlife populations in the impact zone.

The Galapagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Foundation are currently working together to gather national and international support to limit the damage in this very serious crisis..

January 21

Message from Dr Robert Bensted-Smith, director of the Charles Darwin Research Station.

I have just received information that most of the bunker fuel has escaped from the grounded tanker, so the spill is much worse. We are getting some expert advice on the treatment of oiled birds and experts from the International Bird Rescue Research Centre will come here.

As far as I know the US plane with specialist equipment is still due to arrive today, but I believe that was just for pumping out the oil still on the ship. Once the oil is in the sea there is very little they can do.