Excerpts from news releases and other sources pertaining to the Jessica oil spill.
See Ships Page for photos.—JW.
January 17, 2001 — Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos. At approximately 2200 local time (UTC-6) on January 16, 2001, the tanker Jessica, owned by Acotramar, ran aground at Schiavoni Reef, about 800 meters from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal Island. The vessel had just arrived 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 bunker fuel (IFO), which were to be used to fuel the tourist vessel Galápagos Explorer II. There has been no spill so far.
Coordinated action has been initiated between the Ecuadorian Navy and the Direction of the Galápagos National Park in order to prevent any spilling 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 favorable, since waters remain calm. It is necessary to emphasize that no spill has been produced so far, and that 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 Cristóbal Island, is worsening, considering that strong waves are expected for Sunday 21st or Monday 22nd of January. The arrival of contingency crews of the Ecuadorian Navy and of the U. S. Coast Guard is expected after a joint coordination effort carried out between the Galápagos National Park Service, the Ecuadorian Ministry for Environment and the U. S. 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 maneuver of the Ecuadorian Navy and Petroecuador, the Ecuadorian state-owned oil company. An effort to evacuate the fuel from the vessel has 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 of the bunker spill that keeps advancing — the Galápagos National Park Service has suggested that use of non-approved oil dispersants be avoided. 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 Cristóbal. A complete plan for monitoring the biodiversity in the actual and potential impact zone has been devised, in order to have baseline data available to allow measurement of the impact and to determine mitigation actions.
January 19-20, 2001. On January 19, 2001, at about 1730 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 2000 gallons, was 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 ships 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 absorbing fences that surrounded the vessel, the Galápagos National Park Service 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 Cristóbal. 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 contain the animals while the emergency lasts. So far only 35.000 gallons of diesel out of 174.000 on board have been evacuated. Bunker evacuation has been nearly impossible, and the arrival of the contingency crews, confirmed for January 21 at about 0900, 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 an inflatable tank with a holding capacity of 50.000 gallons. It is also expected that in the afternoon of January 20 at about 1700 local time, an Ecuadorian Navy aircraft will arrive at San Cristóbal airport with additional dispersing and absorbing material.
According to latest data obtained by Galápagos National Park Service and Charles Darwin Foundation technicians at 1345 hours on January 20, the spill has an approximate area of between 260 and 310 square kilometers and is headed Northwest at about one knot. Currently the spill is a few miles off Santa Fe island and is estimated to be traveling towards the center of the archipelago. As to the effect on the coastline of San Cristóbal, it has been calculated that 5 to 10% of Wreck Bay has been directly affected. Seven sea lions and approximately 15 birds (pelicans and blue-footed boobies) are affected by the fuel. Galápagos National Park staff is treating these animals to avoid their death.
The latest update, received at 1530 hours local time, indicates that the situation in San Cristóbal remains unchanged. The spill is slowly leaving Wreck Bay due to the wind and prevailing ocean currents without affecting major wildlife populations in the impact zone. It is important to count on national and international collaboration regarding logistics and financial support, in order to mitigate a truly serious situation. The Galápagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Foundation are currently working on this collaboration.
Diego Bonilla Urbina, M. Sc.
Galápagos National Park
January 23, 2001. A CDRS marine biologist and two volunteers joined GNPS personnel on Isla Santa Fe yesterday to wash and treat sea lion pups that had been oiled there. Today we received word that 17 pups have been treated and released and that all are now in a healthy condition. The CDRS is training the National Park guards in the washing and treatment process so that they can continue helping any more oiled pups. CDRS staff should return to Santa Cruz tonight or tomorrow depending on when a boat becomes available. At this stage no animals or birds have been brought to the CDRS rescue center in Santa Cruz.
In coordination with the GNPS two teams of scientists are monitoring impacts. One team in the CDRS vessel Spondylus is monitoring the area between Santa Fe and Santa Cruz and up to Islas Plazas. They are looking for patches of diesel or bunker fuel and trying to predict how far the fuel will spread. Another team in a privately-owned motor launch is monitoring the east coast of Santa Cruz for patches of bunker fuel and any oiled wildlife.
Marine biologists on Isla San Cristóbal are collecting samples from the intertidal zone to determine the impact on organisms found in the area. Volunteers from the Research Station are coordinating cleaning activities at Academy Bay and Tortuga Bay in Santa Cruz island because bunker fuel has reached the coast of this island this afternoon.
January 24, 2001
San Cristóbal: Of the many oiled pelicans on the island only four heavily oiled juvenile pelicans have needed to be cleaned; they are still sick so they are being monitored. One gull with small patches of oil is being monitored, but does not need to be cleaned.
Many sea lion pups have eye infections. Before the oil spill only five individuals were infected but now approximately 50 pups and two juveniles are reported to have eye infections.
Dead fish, particularly puffer fish, have been reported. In the intertidal zone great quantities of green sea urchins, and red and green alga have died. Fortunately, so far no oiled marine iguanas have been reported.
The remaining fuel continues to leak from the vessel, which has to be stabilized before extraction can continue.
Santa Cruz: The fuel reached Tortuga Bay, Santa Cruz Island, yesterday. Today the GNPS has coordinated a team about 200 locals, and CDRS and GNPS personnel to try and clean up the oil. The volunteers are raking a 3-5 cm layer of bunker fuel from the sand and putting it into bags. Hundreds of bags were filled today and work will continue tomorrow. No oiled animals were sighted.
Using aerial surveys and data on sea currents, a map predicting the oil flow was made. According to predictions the fuel should continue moving up the eastern coast of Santa Cruz. The CDRS vessel Spondylus is monitoring the area between northeastern Santa Cruz and Bartolomé. It is checking particularly for patches of bunker fuel, which would be the most harmful for penguins. A second team is monitoring the west coast of Santa Cruz, in a CDRS motor launch.
So far no oiled wildlife has been brought to the Santa Cruz rescue center.
Several teams of experts arrived at noon bringing specialist advice, experience, and equipment to collaborate with local Park and Station personnel treating oiled birds and sea lions. These teams belong to the International Bird Rescue Research Center and the Sea Research and Rescue Center.
Santa Fe: Scientists and volunteers from the Station remained on Santa Fe last night, and throughout the day today, to continue treatment of the affected sea lions. There has been a small population of sea lions affected by the fuel spill, along the rocky coast of Santa Fe Island. Galápagos National Park Wardens have been present on Santa Fe since Monday, monitoring the conditions of the islands' sea lion population. Through joint efforts of the Park and Station, 26 affected sea lion pups have been collected and cleaned on-site.
A further fuel spill has been detected and deterred from entering the coast of Santa Fe. It was collected through mesh nets, absorbents, and dispersals. The National Park Service Wardens will remain on Santa Fe throughout the night to monitor the affected population of sea lions, and prevent further fuel from reaching the island's coastline.
No other populations of sea lions throughout the island have been found affected by the spill.
The members of the Charles Darwin Research Station who were on Santa Fe have returned to Santa Cruz to strengthen the efforts from headquarters.
January 25, 2001
San Cristóbal: Yesterday evening a combined team from the International Bird Rescue Research Center and the Sea Research and Rescue Center traveled to San Cristóbal from Santa Cruz in a tourist boat that was generously offered for their use. The team will sleep on board the boat while they stay in San Cristóbal. Today part of the team will monitor the northern coast of the island looking for oiled wildlife.
Marine biologists from the CDRS also traveled to San Cristóbal yesterday, to help staff who are already there to count sea lions and birds and to monitor and collect samples from the intertidal zones, so they can better define the impacts on the marine community.
The work of stabilizing the tanker Jessica, conducted by technicians from the Ecuadorian Navy, began this morning. After noon the work of positioning anchors had to be delayed because of heavy swells at mid-day. The operations are intended to salvage the remaining fuel from the ship, but especially to move it to a definitive location. Also, attempts are being made to seal off leaks so that additional petroleum products and other flotsam do not further contaminate the waters of Wreck Bay. The Coast Guard team determined that its work could only proceed once the ship's list is reduced to no more than 5 or 10 degrees.
In the next few hours an inventory of materials needed to continue the operation will be prepared. In case of necessity, the Emergency Committee, set up by the Minister of the Environment and overseen by the Provincial Governor, has requested from the mainland 10 more drums of dispersants, absorbing material and other mitigation materials. Also items like medications, sun screen and rehydration fluids for the teams in the field are all part of the requirements passed on to the Ministry of Health in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Provincial Capital of Galápagos.
Unlike Santa Cruz, drinking water on this island does not come from the coastal areas so there is no danger to the local population in this regard.
The Minister of the Environment, Arq. Rodolfo Rendon, arrived at noon and has been in planning sessions since 1430 with the North American technicians and representatives of the Armed Forces dealing with the stabilization of the ship, to establish actions for the days to come and to deal with questions of the final disposal of the ship.
At 1530 a small fuel leak was sprung but dealt with immediately by personnel from the Galápagos National Park and the attending ship Syrius, applying dispersants within less than five minutes. The national and international press in large numbers are covering the clean-up and monitoring operations wherever animals are affected.
Santa Cruz: Experts from the International Bird Rescue Research Center and the Sea Research and Rescue Center evaluated the rescue center that had been established at the Station headquarters. In order to create a more accessible site, the rescue center was relocated, equipment was transferred, and the center was set up in the Marine Biology Laboratory. Still no oiled wildlife has been brought to this center.
A team of CDRS and GNPS personnel took samples of sand from the polluted beaches of Tortuga Bay and Academy Bay. They are determining the level of contamination in the sand.
After reports of a patch of fuel drifting between Isabela and Santa Cruz, three launches have been sent to search the area this afternoon. One is traveling to Isla Pinzón, another to mid-eastern Isabela and the third to Cartago Bay on northeastern Isabela.
A team of CDRS marine biologists spent the day monitoring the subtidal and the intertidal zones of southern Santa Cruz. They were collecting biological information in Academy Bay, Tortuga Bay and Punta Estrada.
From 0600 National Park personnel were busy coordinating field efforts to remove contamination on the beach of Bahia Tortuga (just west of the port). The clean-up was completed at 1300 with no trace of oil left on the sand, although further monitoring is following the slick still at sea in that region. Small amounts of oil were reported at El Garrapatero (just east of the port) and were removed by Park personnel with absorbent towels.
The National Park, with the support of the Tourism Chamber, is coordinating the following actions:
Santa Fe: The current situation on Santa Fe is stable and reassuring. This morning members of the International Bird Rescue Research Center and specialists from the Sea Research and Rescue Center arrived to check the condition of the birds and sea lions found on the island. The monitoring group from the Galápagos National Park, which is equipped and on standby in case of need, reports having to clean only two young sea lions with very light oil stains in their fur. These were released after cleaning with no complications.
After the previous day's work of cleaning oil from other sea lions, they were pleased to find all were still clean.
January 26, 2001
San Cristóbal: Yesterday CDRS personnel monitored the northern shoreline of San Cristóbal looking for oiled wildlife. Today they will concentrate on the southwestern shoreline. They hope to start washing and treating the contaminated pelicans today and to train GNP personnel in the specific techniques.
After monitoring the subtidal and intertidal zones of the island yesterday, CDRS marine biologists haven't found any more sick sea lions (apart from the eye infections reported earlier, and one sea lion with a diesel burn). They have organized teams of volunteers to monitor the beaches, check the water quality, look for oil patches and take samples. So far the intertidal animals such as crabs and snails seem to be unharmed.
Santa Cruz: Last night a monitoring committee was formed in Santa Cruz. It comprises the Galápagos National Park, the Port Captain, the Chamber of Tourism, the local Police and the Charles Darwin Research Station. This committee will coordinate all monitoring activities on Santa Cruz. Collaboration between the various stakeholders in Galápagos has been impressive and makes mitigation and monitoring efforts much more effective.
Yesterday three boats were sent by the Galápagos National Park to monitor the zone between Santa Cruz and Isabela after a local fishing boat reported a possible slick in that area. This report was confirmed by local commercial airline on one of their inter-island flights. However, when one of the boats came upon the slick they discovered that it was actually a “red tide” (a large area of bio-aquatic organisms).
Today there were more reports of a small slick between Floreana, Santa Fe, and Española. All tour boats that are in the area have been asked to deviate their course in order to find the slick and report its location if they sight it. To support monitoring operations, all tour boats are required to radio the Santa Cruz Port captain, with their location and any useful information, three times a day.
At 1000 some CDRS scientists and volunteers went to a small beach near the Station headquarters to clean up bunker fuel that was reportedly found there. After successful clean up operations by local volunteers, GNP and CDRS personnel, Tortuga Bay was re-opened to the public yesterday.
Two CDRS staff members spent the morning monitoring for new patches of fuel or oiled wildlife. One of them covered the shoreline of Academy Bay making a survey of all the birds and marine vertebrates he sighted as well as checking for any oiled wildlife to send to the stabilization center at the Station Headquarters. The other joined GNP personnel in their launch the Guadalupe River to monitor the area between Santa Cruz, Pinzón and Bartolomé.
Santa Fe: At 0500 a team of students of the visiting scientist Martin Wikelski from Princeton University in the USA, traveled to Santa Fe. They will monitor the conditions of the marine iguanas on the island and take samples of the algae which the iguanas eat.
January 27, 2001
San Cristóbal: CDRS representatives on San Cristóbal have been coordinating with the Galápagos National Park teams to monitor the coasts. The teams are walking between Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and the sea lion colony checking the condition of sea lions in the area. They also plan to monitor Los Lobos, some small islets about ten kilometers northeast of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
Santa Cruz: Yesterday a small commercial inter-island plane reported a possible slick of bunker fuel moving towards Floreana. This morning GNP and CDRS personnel gathered in the early hours at the Park dock to go to rescue any oiled wildlife. However when they arrived they received the welcome news that the threat to wildlife wasn't serious, so the trip was called off. Later in the day, a team was sent out to clean up fuel that was near the island.
Today there has been another report of a possible small slick of bunker fuel near Puerto Villamil on southern Isabela. A CDRS worker joined GNP personnel on a monitoring trip between Santa Cruz and Iguana Cove on southern Isabela on the Park motor launch Guadalupe River. The boat contains materials to clean up and contain the slick if one is found.
Today CDRS personnel and international specialists in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation are working with local veterinarians, training them in techniques for treating oiled wildlife. Efforts to treat and clean affected pelicans will continue. So far, animals on Santa Cruz have not been affected by the fuel spill.
Santa Fe: There is no Sante Fe report today.
January 28, 2001
The slicks that were reported yesterday have now reached the islands of Isabela and Floreana. This morning a National Park motor launch took CDRS (Charles Darwin Research Station) and GNPS (Galápagos National Park Service) personnel, and international specialists in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation to Puerto Villamil, on Isabela. They have equipment with them to clean and treat any oiled wildlife if the need arises. Another vessel Sirenian took GNPS personnel to Floreana to help with the clean up operations that started yesterday in the region of Las Cuevas, where a small but thick and viscous patch of bunker fuel was found in a cove. We are still waiting for reports from both islands concerning the extent of contamination and whether any wildlife is affected. Conditions have stabilized in San Cristóbal, so international specialists in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation that were helping to treat oiled wildlife in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno are returning to Santa Cruz. CDRS and GNPS personnel will continue monitoring the coast and wildlife of the island. The GNP and CDRS, with the collaboration of Galápagos tour operators, are continuing the air and sea search for patches of bunker fuel within the archipelago. All Galápagos institutions remain on full alert in case more fuel spills out of the damaged ship Jessica. It has not yet been possible to stabilize the ship and pump out the remaining fuel, which is thought to be only a small fraction of the original cargo.
January 29, 2001
Isabela: Reports of slicks keep coming in. Today we received news of bunker fuel in the vicinity of Cartago Bay on eastern Isabela. The Ecuadorian Coast Guard vessel 17 de diciembre left San Cristóbal this morning for Isabela with equipment to make a barrier at the entrance of the Bay to prevent any more fuel entering. At 0600 the GNPS (Galápagos National Park Service) and CDRS (Charles Darwin Research Station) personnel left Santa Cruz to help with clean up operations and to place the barrier in Cartago Bay. In the latest reports, no fuel has been detected close to the area. However, monitoring will continue throughout the week.
Further reports of fuel reaching the shore on southern Isabela came in this morning. The CDRS vessel Spondylus left at 0900 to monitor the area for any slicks.
Clean up operations continue on southern Isabela and eastern Floreana, but so far the impact to wildlife is minimal. All operations are being coordinated by the Galápagos National Park.
San Cristóbal: As part of CDRS support to the Park Service's spill mitigation program, 12 international experts and two CDRS scientists are rescuing and treating oiled birds. GNPS park rangers accompany the team on their monitoring trips in search of affected birds. The specialist team started to treat birds yesterday. Only the seriously affected birds were transported to the rescue center, where a general check-up was carried out to evaluate each animal's condition. Once an animal's condition was stable, it was cleaned. Each bird will stay in captivity for around 5 days until its plumage has recovered its impermeability. It will then be returned to its natural environment.
Santa Cruz: An expert in oil spills, Dr. Paul Kingston of Heriott Watt University, Edinburgh, has arrived in Santa Cruz to help in the aftermath of the fuel spill. Today together with CDRS marine biologists he will visit Tortuga Bay where they will collect sediment samples to measure the level of contamination in the area.
Sea lion monitoring and cleaning continues under CDRS and GNPS coordination. Pups cannot be separated from their mothers for than a few hours, so the cleaning takes place on site. If a very ill sea lion needs to be treated, facilities are ready at the Rescue Center.
January 30, 2001
The Galápagos National Park Service continues to coordinate the clean up, monitoring and wildlife rescue operations throughout the archipelago. The GNPS press release gives the latest information on their activities.
The Charles Darwin Research Station continues to support the GNPS efforts. Today a team of CDRS scientists left Santa Cruz in the tour boat Flamingo for a detailed inspection of the southern shore of Isabela over the next three days. If they find any slicks or endangered wildlife, they will call in support personnel.
A team of CDRS marine biologists, who are working with Dr. Paul Kingston, an expert in oil spills, also left Santa Cruz last night aboard the tour boat Nortada. During the next two days they will visit Isabela, Floreana, San Cristóbal and Santa Fe. The biologists will take sediment cores on each island to measure the level of contamination in the different sites. They will also take samples of small animals (e.g. crustaceans) found in the sand. These cores and samples will be analyzed at Heriott Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Now that fewer slicks are being reported and the state of emergency seems to be declining, it is time to start planning the next steps. In the next weeks assessments will be made of the impacted sites. The contamination level of each site will be evaluated along with the sensitivity of each site (e.g. mangroves are considered highly sensitive whereas cliff areas are less sensitive.) Selected sites and species will be monitored over the long-term to check any changes in feeding habits or reproduction after the fuel spill.
A contingency plan in case of future emergencies is being developed by the GNPS with the support of all the local groups involved in the cleanup operation.
Red arrow and cross indicate approximate location of oil spill.
* SeaWIFS: Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-View Sensor
January 23, 2001 — Puerto Ayora, Galápagos. With oil still leaking from the grounded ship Jessica and emergency mitigation work in progress, it will require several weeks of systematic surveys and research to assess the immediate impact of the spill. However, in response to worldwide concern, the Charles Darwin Foundation can provide this preliminary overview.
We understand that the U. S. Coast Guard and Ecuadorian Navy have managed to remove a little of the fuel from the stricken vessel, but that most of the cargo of a quarter of a million gallons of diesel and bunker fuel are now in the sea. This is a major oil spill by standard measures used in Ecuador and the USA, and extremely serious in a place as unique and rich in wildlife as Galápagos. Fortunately, several factors have combined to reduce the impact of the spill and make us confident that the ecosystem will recover fully.
The Ecuadorian Navy and a well-equipped expert team from the U. S. Coastguard are now dealing with the grounded ship. It is hazardous work but we hope they will be able to minimize further leakage. Once the flow of oil is completely stopped, there will have to be a systematic evaluation of the impact and clean-up of affected areas, for which the Park Service has the advice of NOAA—the U. S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Over the coming months and years, the Park and the Charles Darwin Research Station will be monitoring affected sites and vulnerable species, such as the lava gull and marine iguana. The control of the spill, the clean-up, ecological monitoring and development of the capability to prevent and manage future disasters in Galápagos are all expensive tasks, for which international funding is needed. But the costs are minimal compared to the value of the pristine nature to be protected.
In conclusion, our very preliminary assessment is that, thanks mainly to climate and currents, the impacts of this major oil spill on the Galápagos ecosystem may not be severe. If we are right and if the situation does not deteriorate in the coming days, then this will be a great relief to everyone. However, our relief should not lead us to neglect the need for a great deal of mitigation, ecological monitoring, disaster prevention and contingency planning, for which Ecuador will need international assistance.
Dr. Robert Bensted-Smith, Director
Charles Darwin Research Station
January 25, 2001 — Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos. An Associated Press/Reuters News Report states that Captain Tarquino Arévalo Escandón and his crew have been confined pending formal charges. They could face several years in prison if convicted of negligence or environmental crime.
January 26, 2001 — New Zealand. The Jessica had no business being in Galápagos: She was decrepit, uninsured, didn't have a high-seas captain, had never been to Galápagos before, and had no local charts on board. The ship was supposed to deliver fuel to Baltra, which is a deep-sea harbour with no dangerous reefs, not San Cristóbal Island where the port's other name is Wreck Bay! However, the company controlling her is part-owned by a relative of the minister of defense. Some say that is the only reason she got her permit to sail.
Second, there is only one ship in Galápagos which burns bunker fuel, a situation I understand they had been given a deadline to redress.
Third, in the first four days after the grounding but before the oil started leaking out, the owners of the cargo—state-owned Petroecuador—forbade, with the Navy's backing, any attempts by the Park and the Sea Shepherd Society's ship Sirenian to organize removal of the fuel still in the hold because they considered it theft. The Park director has publicly accused the owners of thwarting efforts to mitigate disaster in their own self-interest of safeguarding what they still hoped to be a salvageable (and uninsured) fuel cargo.
January 29, 2001 — New Zealand. As already reported, the Jessica hit the rocks at about 2200 on Tuesday, January 16. Galápagos National Park personnel aboard the Sea Shepherd's Sirenian were on the scene first thing the next morning and started pumping fuel out before any of it spilled. However, there were impeded by the fuel's owners, Petroecuador (with backing from the San Cristóbal Port Captain), who were more concerned with safeguarding their cargo than preventing a disaster.
This spill is certainly classed as a disaster, as it is and should be, and catches media attention. Donations sent to help with the clean-up, damage assessment, etc, are very valuable and needed. But we need to remind people that the fishing problem is a far bigger one. The oil spill no doubt has and will cause damage, animals will die, etc, but the problem is finite and in due course it will go away. The fishing problem will not! Not, that is, unless we somehow manage to do things right, which is very hard to define, and even harder to accomplish.
While the oil spill is a great way to focus attention on the conservation plight of Galápagos, right now it is being used as very convenient diversion from the real problem: The government can now be seen to be doing everything right, sending out press releases, calling for international help, and so on. Even the fishermen are looking good, showing up in the news as helping to protect the wildlife. They're having a holier-than-thou fling at the Park and tourism industry for allowing a ship (and a “green” one at that) to operate in Galápagos while burning bunker fuel — a good point. If something good is to come out of this latest disaster, we must somehow refocus attention on the greater problem with fishing!
I am told that the Galápagos National Park is under strict government order not to divulge news, an order which, thankfully, they appear to be defying.
February 1, 2001 — Puerto Ayora, Galápagos. His Royal Highness The Grand Duke of Luxembourg, accompanied by Dr. Fernando Espinoza, Secretary General of the Charles Darwin Foundation, arrived at Baltra airport in the Galápagos today. The Grand Duke is here as a long-standing member of the Board of the Charles Darwin Foundation, in order to assess the situation regarding the fuel spill from the tanker Jessica.
They were met by Dr. Robert Bensted-Smith, Director of the Charles Darwin Research Station. The Director stated that “The Grand Duke knows the Galápagos islands very well, and we will be taking him to the sites affected by the fuel spill, so that he can see the actions taking place, and the efforts to minimize damage to the environment.”
The Grand Duke visited the Galápagos Islands for the first time in 1988. As a result of that experience he founded the Galápagos Darwin Trust — an organization dedicated to creating an endowment fund to help the work of the Galápagos National Park and the Station.
His Royal Highness visits the islands as often as his duties permit; he was last here for the CDF meetings in November 1997. Since then, he has been the Guest of Honor at the 1999 “Galápagos Day” event in London, organized by the Galápagos Conservation Trust, and attended the CDF Board meetings in Switzerland in April 2000.
He is very much concerned about nature and its preservation, both in Luxembourg as well as abroad. His Royal Highness established the Prince Henri Award for Excellence at the Station, to be given to an outstanding naturalist guide in the Galápagos Islands. This prize was first awarded in July 2000.
Prince Henry plans to stay in Galápagos until 3rd February.
February 2, 2001 — Puerto Ayora, Galápagos. The grounded ship Jessica is still firmly lodged on the sandbank by San Cristóbal Island in Galápagos, where she ran aground on 16th January. She has resisted the salvage efforts of the Ecuadorian Navy and of the team of U.S.Coast Guard experts, who fly out today after two weeks of intensive work, in which they were able to pump out a little of the cargo but could not right or refloat the vessel. They have confirmed that almost all the cargo of diesel and bunker fuel has already spilled into the sea—as little as 1000 gallons remain in the ship.
Patches of bunker fuel are still drifting through the archipelago, and the Galápagos National Park Service, the Charles Darwin Research Station, tour operators, fishermen and other collaborators are still working flat-out to locate and mop up the patches, monitor wildlife populations that may be at risk, and treat affected animals. The complex, erratic currents of Galápagos have carried some patches of bunker fuel to the east coast of Floreana Island, which is 90 kilometers from San Cristóbal where the ship ran aground, and to the southern and south-eastern coasts of Isabela, some 130 km away. This brings to five the number of major islands affected by the spill. Fuel has washed ashore in some places but no serious cases of oiled wildlife have been reported in recent days.
The observations of Park Service and Darwin Station personnel during the past week have reinforced the initial impression that impacts of the spill will be widespread but, on the incomplete evidence so far available, not severe. Most of the spectacular coastal wildlife of Galápagos seems to have escaped significant impact—only a few dozen animals, mostly pelicans, have had to be treated and helped to recover. Deaths of fish and marine invertebrates have been reported but the extent of this mortality is not yet known. Marine iguanas on Santa Fe have been heavily exposed to the pollutants and we will be studying them closely, to look for any ill effects. There is no evidence that populations of the Galápagos penguin or the lava gull, two of the very rare species about which we are most concerned, have been affected. However, these are early days; systematic evaluation of impacts will take up to three months.
Given the quantity of fuel spilled, the impact could have been far worse. Galápagos wildlife appears to have had a lucky escape, mainly as a result of the currents and winds, which carried the diesel and bunker fuel away from San Cristóbal Island, where the Jessica ran aground, into deeper, offshore waters. There the bunker fuel tended to disperse, whilst the diesel steadily evaporated in the intense sunshine, before reaching the shores of the other islands. Good luck with the weather was complemented by dedicated, hard work—the Galápagos National Park Service led a determined, community-wide effort to keep the bunker fuel off the beaches and rocky coasts. Nevertheless the Darwin Station will undertake with the Park Service a full evaluation and prolonged monitoring of selected sites and species, in order to confirm the intensity and distribution of impacts and make sure there are no unforeseen medium-term effects.
The ecological monitoring of potentially affected sites and species is likely to continue for 2-3 years. It will cover an array of marine organisms, such as algae and sea urchins, chosen to reflect the healthy functioning of the marine ecosystem, as well as more prominent, vulnerable species, such as the marine iguana, sea lion and lava gull.
Complementary work will be done on improving the regulatory framework to prevent environmental disasters, whether oil spills or some other anthropogenic cause, such as a disease epidemic that threatens endemic wildlife. Contingency plans will be prepared for future incidents and the trained personnel, facilities, equipment, networks of contacts and financing mechanisms will be put in place, so that Galápagos is well prepared for emergencies.
The total cost of mitigation and clean-up operations, plus the forthcoming evaluation, monitoring and contingency planning, will run into millions of dollars. We are extremely grateful to the many concerned people and institutions—local, national and international—who have responded rapidly with technical assistance, materials and funds. Considerably more funds will be needed if we are to do a thorough job of ecological monitoring and preventive measures.
As the ecological and emotional impacts of this spill fade, I urge everyone who cares about Galápagos to remember the array of problems and opportunities facing marine conservation in the archipelago. In the coming weeks and months, the Darwin Station will focus not only on the continuing response to the spill but also on issues of great importance for the future of the Galápagos Marine Reserve, such as:
The Galápagos Marine Reserve is a vast and wonderful protected area, that extends over 130,000 square kilometers of the Pacific Ocean. Created just three years ago, it not only has an extraordinary diversity of submarine habitats and species, but also supports the spectacular coastal wildlife, for which the Islands are renowned. The image of the Jessica spewing fuel into this unique environment has dismayed all who value the natural wonders of the world. Relief that the ecological damage has not, apparently, been severe, must be accompanied by renewed determination to ensure that the archipelago be protected in perpetuity. I would like to thank the many people who have offered moral and practical support during this emergency, and I ask all who care about pristine nature to keep supporting conservation of the irreplaceable fauna and flora of Galápagos.
Dr. Robert Bensted-Smith
Charles Darwin Research Station
The Galápagos Islands
February 8, 2001. The Galápagos National Park, represented by its Director, Eliécer Cruz, filed a lawsuit today before the President of the High Court of Guayaquil, Ecuador for punitive damages against the people responsible for the January 16, 2001 incident of the M/T Jessica in the Galápagos Islands, and the consequent fuel spill that the said incident caused.
The suit was filed before the President of the High Court of Guayaquil due to specific regulation of Ecuadorian environmental law, which declares this authority competent to preside over this kind of civil action suit for environmental damages. The plaintiff's lawsuit states that although the resulting damages from the incident are still being calculated, the total amount will be not less than $14,000,000 USD (fourteen million dollars).
The Galápagos National Park's lawsuit has been issued against the following persons:
Additionally, and in keeping with what has previously been established in the International Agreement on Civil Responsibility for the damages caused by hydrocarbon contamination of sea waters (1969), the Galápagos National Park has filed a lawsuit against Terra Nova Insurance Co. Ltd., a highly prestigious insurance company based in London, England, who had an active insurance policy that covered the risk of fuel spillage for the M/T Jessica (property of Acotramar), and the damages to third parties that could occur as a consequence of said spill. In accordance with a certificate issued by the Ecuadorian Maritime Authorities, the before mentioned insurance policy is effective through the end of March 2001. This certificate has been presented at the civil trial initiated by the Galápagos National Park.
On this last point, it is important to emphasize that Terra Nova Insurance Company claims that the policy was no longer in effect and had been canceled due to lack of premium payment. This information is not official and furthermore it was Terra Nova's obligation to notify the Ecuadorian government of this supposed cancellation, which they failed to do.
The President of the Superior Court of Guayaquil, Ecuador, has allowed this suit to be reviewed by the Court and has ordered the subpoena of each of the defendants, including the exhortation to the government of Great Britain in order to subpoena Terra Nova Insurance Company Ltd.
This is the first and only civil suit for environmental punitive damages issued by the Galápagos National Park in relation to the M/T Jessica fuel spill incident on January 16, 2001. Until this date there have been only criminal processes initiated against the parties implicated in this case.
February 16, 2001 — Quito. The ship Jessica, which run aground in the Galápagos Islands, pouring 240,00 gallons of fuel, fulfilled all navigation documentation and requirements stated in Merchant Marine regulations. This is what Hugo Unda, Minister of Defense, maintained during his appearance before Congress. He also affirmed the ship was in appropriate condition to transport fuel.
The ship, he said, had its technical documentation up-to-date, and therefore its ability to navigate was regarded as adequate, to the point that it did not fracture for three days. Moreover, he affirmed that the captain of the vessel, Tarquino Arévalo Escandón, had the qualifications and professional profile needed for the Galápagos trip.
He also stated that the Merchant Marine Directorate authorized the transport to San Cristóbal island of 78,900 gallons of ifo (a mixture of bunker and residue) for the Galápagos Explorer II. Also, the La Libertad oil terminal supervisors authorized the transport of 160,000 gallons of diesel fuel 2 from Petrocomercial to Baltra island.
During his 2-plus hour presentation, he stated that the vessel has a $10,000,000 insurance policy, which expires March 1. Additionally, Acotromar (the ship owner), is insured for $2,550,000, a policy which expires December 1 of this year.
The causes of the accident will be determined once the investigations and technical examinations are completed. A Chilean expert, Captain Gonzalo Pizarro, arrived in the country for this purpose. The appearance had been requested by Alfredo Serrano (PSC), who indicated after Unda's presentation that Petroecuador was liable for the disaster.
Galápagos microorganisms will be studied. Scientists from around the world will be studying during the next three months the effects on microorganisms of the Galápagos oil spill last January 16. The representative in Ecuador of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Carlos Valle, told the news agency EFE that, even though the black tide has been controlled, it is feared that residual fuel could affect the food chain and diversity of microorganisms.
On the evening of January 16, the old oil tanker Jessica ran aground near San Cristóbal Island, in Galápagos, pouring 600,000 liters of fuel, 65% of its load. Valle indicated that the fuel spill has been controlled, but stressed that the breakdown of the fuel and residue in particles could damage the “microfauna” of the archipelago and endanger the over 5,000 species that inhabit the island, 40% of which are unique in the world.
Scientists are evaluating biologic effects and monitoring the situation in those spots most affected by the spill. According to the expert, monitoring and control over the effects of the spill will take about three years, for it is “a meticulous process, requiring great effort.” For the moment, Valle added, no spills threatening the archipelago coasts have been detected. However, he insisted the oil spill “microresidue” will continue to be a subject of preoccupation for the international community, which got together to take care of the Galápagos Islands, declared a Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Archipelago authorities in Ecuador's Galápagos province are drafting a “contingency plan,” to be activated in case of an emergency similar to that of last month, where several countries came to help control the spill. The Galápagos Islands are located about 1,000 kilometers west of the continental coast of Ecuador. They owe their name to the giant turtles that inhabit this paradise-like place, which served as a natural laboratory for the English scientist Charles Darwin to develop his theory on the evolution of species.
The Minister of Defense, Hugo Unda, and the spokesperson for Petroecuador, Rodolfo Barniol, appeared today before the National Congress to clarify some issues regarding the Galápagos oil spill. Unda denied any responsibility in the Jessica accident last January 16, claiming the vessel fulfilled all conditions to navigate, was registered, insured and had the Navy's authorization to operate in the area.
“The vessel had a traffic permit valid until March 31, 2001, therefore it could navigate in any national harbor,” the Minister said. He also said that, after the accident occurred, the Government prepared a contingency plan based upon the Navy's technical abilities.
The Congress is seeking to establish responsibilities in the Jessica case, since there seems to be negligence that will need to be corrected to prevent similar accidents. The presence of the authorities before Congress was requested by representative Alfredo Serrano, who questioned the lack of responses both from Petroecuador and from the Navy, in order to identify responsibilities in this case.
Hugo Unda, Minister of Defense; Jose Ramon Jimenez, General Attorney; Rodolfo Barniol, Petroecouador Executive President; and Fernando Donoso, Navy Chief, appeared yesterday before Congress. They appeared to explain the possible causes that led the vessel Jessica to spill oil in the Galápagos Islands; and the status of the preliminary investigations.
The vessel had a certificate of audit, appraisement and classification valid until March 2001, which included the main characteristics of the vessel and its appraisal for fiscal purposes. In the third place, Jessica had a registration certificate. This document indicates the registry port for the vessel, which in the case of the oil tanker Jessica, was issued by the Captain's office of the Port of Guayaquil. The fourth document was a certificate of safety inspection, valid until March 30, 2001, which proves that the vessel was fully authorized to safely navigate. All these certificates were registered and allowed the oil tanker to operate in national waters.
The Minister declared that the vessel underwent technical inspections on April 13, June 30 and September 30, 2000, “licensing the boat until the next inspection on March 30.” Therefore the Jessica was considered capable of performing the task given. He pointed out the vessel had no impediment whatsoever to operate in national and international waters.
It is concluded that the vessel had all technical permits, and therefore its navigation condition “was adequate.” Its hull resistance was proved, after enduring strong seas, with water, and a hole in the hull for three days without experiencing any fractures.
He explained that the company Maritima del Pacifico requested the Jessica to go to sea from the oil terminal of La Libertad, towards the Island region, transporting 14,800 gallons of national diesel and 61,800 gallons of residue which, when mixed, produce ifo fuel 120, to be delivered to San Cristóbal island.
March 8, 2001 — Puerto Ayora, Galápagos. The following report is taken from a letter recently sent to Mr. Juan Schiess, President of the Chamber of Tourism of Galápagos, in response to his request for an assessment of the status of touristic resources following the recent oil spill.
The work of assessing the level of shoreline contamination and evaluation of ecological impacts is still in progress. However, I can say with some confidence that the effects of the spill on the wildlife populations of Galápagos have been slight, albeit quite widespread around the archipelago. It is unlikely that a regular Galápagos visitor would notice any trace or impacts of the spill. Despite the accident, the Galápagos National Park and Marine Reserve still comprise one of the most pristine island ecosystems on the planet.
Right now the Galápagos National Park Service and Charles Darwin Research Station are undertaking an assessment of the levels of contamination around the coastlines of all the affected islands. Where significant amounts of oil are found, they will be cleaned up. Scientists will study contaminated and uncontaminated sites, as well as species considered to be at risk, in order to evaluate the impacts of the spill. It is likely that there will be impacts in some sites and some wildlife populations. Whilst a few may be significant, the overall picture is one of scattered, minor impacts. Indeed, it may be difficult to measure the impacts relative to the marked natural fluctuations in the Galápagos marine and coastal ecosystem between different seasons and locations. We expect to keep monitoring selected sites and species over a couple of years, to make sure that there is full recovery, with no unforeseen medium-term effects. At the same time there is a need for a range of measures to prevent and prepare for emergencies of various kinds—we must heed the wake-up call!
Given the quantity of fuel spilled, the impacts could have been far worse. Galápagos wildlife appears to have had a lucky escape, mainly as a result of the currents and winds, which carried the diesel and bunker fuel away from San Cristóbal Island, where the Jessica ran aground, into deeper, offshore waters. There the bunker fuel tended to disperse, whilst the diesel fuel steadily evaporated in the intense sunshine, before reaching the shores of the other islands.
Good luck with the weather was complemented by dedicated, hard work—the Galápagos National Park Service led a determined, community-wide effort to keep the bunker fuel off the beaches and rocky coasts. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Galápagos tour operators for their tremendous support of the conservation institutions during this emergency. Funds, logistical support, materials and people were all provided rapidly and you personally participated in the daily meetings at the Park headquarters to review the situation and plan the next actions. It was an invaluable contribution to the local response, that helped to minimise environmental impacts.
I am optimistic that the scientific evaluation will confirm the impression that the wildlife of Galápagos has come through this serious threat relatively unscathed. Of course, there are many other conservation challenges to face, if we are to preserve the Galápagos Islands with all their current wealth of marine and terrestrial biodiversity—introduced alien species and fisheries management problems are two that stand out. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with the tourism sector to address these and other issues, for the conservation of this unique and wonderful archipelago.
Robert Bensted-Smith, Director
Charles Darwin Research Station
January 16, 2002—Puerto Ayora. A year ago, the unthinkable happened. The cargo ship Jessica ran aground in the Galápagos Islands. The vessel struck land near the coast of San Cristóbal carrying a load of 160,000 gallons of diesel and 80,000 gallons of bunker fuel. As the fuel began to spill, the world held its breath while the Ministry of Environment, the Ecuadorian army, the CDRS (Charles Darwin Research Station) and the GNP (Galápagos National Park) worked with the local community and Ecuadorian and international experts in a massive cleanup effort to prevent the accident from becoming a huge catastrophe.
In the first four days before the spill began, CDRS biologists were dispatched to the areas that could be affected to follow up and compile a record of the flora and fauna of the sites. During a particularly low tide, the Ecuadorian Navy, an emergency team of the US Coast Guard and members of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) of the United States tried to seal the fractures in the fuel tanks in order to float the moored vessel. Thanks to the hard work and perseverance of the teams, 50,000 gallons of fuel were successfully removed at this time.
The park concentrated all of its efforts in the cleanup of the spill. Dispersants were applied near the ship, while hundreds of people, including park wardens, local residents and station personnel used net and absorbent material barriers to contain and collect the fuel before it hit the coast.
The CDRS, together with the GNP and NOAA, developed trajectory maps to predict what areas of the coast could be most affected by the fuel spill. This enabled them to direct the emergency effort. A small plane from San Cristóbal tracked the spread of the fuel on a daily basis to verify the predictions.
The station and the park established Animal Rescue Centers in San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz. International fuel spill experts instructed personnel on how to treat the affected animals, particularly the marine birds and sea lions.
The Galápagos community faced this emergency together. Many local tour operators, as well as fishermen and various business owners offered their support by donating equipment, manpower, transportation and other resources.
CDRS scientists took samples in more than 400 sites throughout the archipelago and found that the environmental contamination caused by the Jessica spill was widespread but minimal. The Charles Darwin Foundation conducted an evaluation study of the spill's impact, which will be available at the end of January.
In general, the conclusions of the foundation's studies are as follows:
The world's instant reaction was incredible. We would like to thank the individuals and organizations that contributed equipment, manpower, counseling and finances to prevent a potentially terrible tragedy. It would be impossible to mention each name, but their generous support was crucially important to finish the job. Without their help the end result could have been very different.
In comparison to other spills of similar magnitude, Galápagos was very lucky because a large part of the spill crossed the archipelago on a southwest course, missing the coast. The studies on measurable impacts to determine future recovery activities are almost complete. The accident is a warning of what could have happened and of the necessity to protect the natural environment of Galápagos.
Though the crisis is over, the follow up and recovery effort continues. Steps are being taken to minimize the risk in the case of a similar accident. At the same time, we must increase our conservation, investigation and education efforts to protect the unique Galápagos ecosystems from the increased pressures of the modern world. The fuel spill is a somber reminder of these pressures.
The monitoring of the affected sites and species will continue for another year or two. The follow up will encompass a large variety of marine organisms that are representative of the state of the marine ecosystem, as well as predominant and vulnerable species such as marine iguanas and the sea lions.
We need to learn from this disaster. Work has begun to improve the regulatory system that prevents manmade environmental disasters. A future contingency plan will be created so that Galápagos will be well prepared to avoid future incidents.
The foundation and the park will continue working together to overcome emergencies and long-term challenges to ensure the conservation of the land area and the marine area, which was recently named a World Heritage Site.