Peru: 21 beaches polluted by spill linked to Tonga eruption

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A worker, dressed in a protective suit, cleans Conchitas Beach contaminated by an oil spill, in Ancon, Peru, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. The oil spill on the Peruvian coast was caused by the waves from an eruption of an undersea volcano in the South Pacific nation of Tonga. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

LIMA – Peru declared an environmental emergency on Thursday after announcing that 21 beaches on the Pacific coast were contaminated by an oil spill at a refinery run by Spain-based Repsol, following surging waves caused by the eruption of an underwater volcano near Tonga.

President Pedro Castillo said a committee will be formed to propose ways of dealing with the crisis, in keeping with national policies aimed at protecting the environment.

Prime Minister Mirtha Vásquez said Repsol has promised to deliver a cleaning schedule, to incorporate local fishermen in the cleanup on beaches and to deliver food baskets to affected families.

Vásquez said the United Nations will provide a team of experts to help Peru deal with the oil spill. People are barred for now from going to the 21 polluted beaches because of health concerns.

Peruvian authorities say an Italian-flagged ship spilled 6,000 barrels in the Pacific on Saturday in front of the La Pampilla refinery. In recent days, environmental activists have collected oil-stained or dead seabirds.

Repsol said Peruvian authorities had not provided a tsunami warning and that the ship was continuing to unload oil to the refinery when the waves hit.

Two women in Peru drowned after being swept away by strong waves following the Tonga eruption.