RAYMOND, Maine — In January 2022, Tonga experienced multiple natural disasters. The country underwent earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. The cleanups and management of the aftermath are well underway in Tonga, but the damage that occurred did not only happen in Tonga. The aftershocks from natural disasters spread across the oceans. Peru is one of the most damaged areas as an oil refinery spilled thousands of oil barrels across Peru’s coast. The costly cleanup of Peru’s oil spill is ongoing while affecting the local economy as the cleanup continues.
Peru’s Oil Spill
Peru’s oil spill stemmed from a Repsol oil refinery. The Spanish-owned company’s refinery lost 10,000 barrels of crude oil as the oil tankard pumped the oil into the company’s refinery. The spill involved 2,100 tons of crude oil, far above the 700-ton limit set by the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited to qualify for a “large” spill standard. The oil spill occurred within minutes and as of March 2022, Peru’s government is still fighting to get the waters clean as the spill covered at least 20 of Peru’s beaches and 12 miles.
This disaster is Peru’s most significant oil spill in Peru’s history. The spill took place near Peru’s densely populated capital city, Lima. The spill was the most damaging ever to the marine environment off Peru’s coastline. There was a legal battle over whether Repsol was at fault. The basis for the battle claims that Repsol’s early-leak alarm systems were faulty and Repsol did not provide adequate equipment for immediate cleanup of an oil spill of such magnitude. The surface cleanup was more than halfway done by mid-February. However, as Peru’s oil spill still damages the coastline, the local fishermen struggle to find work and pay their bills.
Peru’s oil spill impacted the lives of 2,500 local fishermen. The livelihoods of the local fishermen depend on the quality of their catch each day, making their take-home salaries hard to calculate. With an average income before the spill, the fishermen barely live above the poverty line (20% in Peru). The population is considered “traditional fishermen” in Peru and the impacted waters contain the most valuable fish to the fishermen.
The traditional fishermen use few pieces of equipment and often work from the beaches without venturing far into the waters. Not many fishermen use boats or go beyond their usual beaches. The waters are rich with the fish for the famous Peruvian dish, Ceviche and the common catch is Peruvian sole. The daily salaries range from $12 to $30. All of the locals impacted are to receive $799 as compensation from Repsol for their losses given the economic damages done. The fishermen are grateful for the money even with their understanding of how it will not last long. The fishermen fear what will happen when the funds run out as bills continue to pile up.
The local waters impacted in Peru’s oil spill are where these fishermen make their catches. Even if the immediately necessary cleanup finishes quickly enough to return to the waters to work, the final cleanup will take approximately two years. While the extent of the damage to the marine environment is not fully known yet, it is likely bad enough that the fish population will never recover for the fishermen to make the earnings the fishermen made prior to the spill.
Cleanup Initiatives and Efforts
The cleanup efforts are estimated to cost more than $65 million. This accounts for the labor and tools necessary to complete the cleanup efforts. However, it does not account for the lost wages Peru’s fishermen experienced and will continue to experience due to Peru’s oil spill.
Peru’s oil spill cleanup is tedious and labor-intensive. Repsol and environmental activist groups have been cleaning each beach every day. The crews are using simple tools including sponges, towels and barrels to hold the oil absorbed so that they may dispose of it safely. The crews also use ocean skimmers to clean the water and containment barriers spread between beaches to hold back contaminated water for cleaning.
The local communities in Peru have acted to band together and support each other during difficult times. There are community meals through churches to lift the burden from families of affording groceries. While Repsol is making small donations to make up for their spill, it has handed out $135 grocery vouchers worth to the jobless fishermen, prices are rising worldwide and the vouchers do not last long.
Peru’s oil spill has done immense damage to the livelihoods of the fishermen. Still, the community is not ready to give up on the families of the fishermen or the work. Until the fishermen are free to return to the water, the Peruvian government will force Repsol to compensate the fishermen for their lost earnings. The community continues to do everything possible to support the fishermen so that the fishermen and their families can stay above the poverty line.
– Clara Mulvihill