A judge in Peru has barred four executives from Spanish energy giant Repsol from leaving the country for 18 months, as authorities investigate a gigantic oil spill that saw approximately 11,900 barrels of oil leak into the ocean – almost double an initial estimate.
The Peruvian government has described the January 15 spill, which Repsol said was caused by huge waves caused by a volcanic eruption on Tonga, as the largest “ecological disaster” in recent years.
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The spill took place when the Mare Doricum, an Italian-flagged tanker, was unloading oil at the La Pampilla refinery, just off Peru’s coast about 30 kilometres (19 miles) north of the capital, Lima. Repsol has said Peruvian authorities did not provide a tsunami warning.
The Spanish company, which has faced widespread backlash for the incident, has yet to give out its own estimate, but in a statement said that it will “continue to cooperate fully with any criminal investigation” related to the spill.
Judge Romualdo Aguedo on Friday granted the prosecution’s request to prevent the four executives, including Repsol Peru’s Spanish president, Jaime Fernandez-Cuesta Luca de Tena, from leaving the country.
Aguedo imposed the ban after considering there was a “potential risk” that the four would leave Peru. Lawyers for the Repsol executives did not appeal the decision and said on Thursday they will collaborate with the investigation.
Prosecutors say ocean currents have carried crude 140km (86 miles) north of the refinery, provoking the death of untold numbers of fish and sea birds. The spill also has prevented hundreds of traditional artisanal fishermen from working.
The Mare Doricum is anchored with a ban on setting sail, while hundreds of workers and volunteers have been desperately trying to clean up about 20 affected beaches.
Fernandez-Cuesta Luca de Tena is accused of being responsible for the crime of “environmental pollution to the detriment of the state”, with the three other executives considered “accomplices”.
If found guilty, Repsol’s president faces a potential prison sentence of four to six years.
On Thursday, Peru’s Agency for Environmental Assessment and Enforcement (OEFA) said that Repsol did not comply with the deadline to identify damaged areas and began the process to impose a fine of up to $4.8m.
Repsol has said it has some 2,000 people cleaning up the damage, with the support of 119 heavy machines on land, 11 floating tanks and 52 boats.
La Pampilla is Peru’s largest refinery and accounts for 54 percent of its refining capacity.