By Mercedes Alvaro
Ecuador has declared a 180-day state of emergency in the protected Galápagos Islands, while work continues to unload and refloat a freighter that ran aground last week.
The emergency status would free up resources to move the vessel.
On Jan. 28, the freighter Floreana, transporting about 1,400 tons of products, including food, construction materials and 13,000 gallons of fuel, ran aground in Naufragio Bay.
“There is no kind of environmental damage. The greatest danger has passed. Since the ship ran aground there has not been any fuel spilled,” said Jorge Torres, the governor of Galápagos, in a telephone interview on Thursday from Isla San Cristobal.
Scientists and environmentalists, however, said there could be some impacts.
“Naufragio is a bay with great biological diversity. There is a potential risk of its being affected, especially for very large colonies of sea lions and invertebrate species from the coast,” said Carlos Valle, a professor at Universidad San Francisco de Quito.
Officials said that as long as the ship remains aground there is a danger it will break up and spill its remaining cargo, which includes some polluting liquids.
“There is no imminent environmental risk. But while the ship continues in the bay, there is a risk,” Mr. Torres said.
According to Mr. Torres, most of the fuel has been removed from the freighter and only 12%-15% still needs to be removed
Oswaldo Rosero, representative in Ecuador of U.S. based NGO WildAid said that most of the fuel has been removed and workers are using absorbent material around the ship to contain any possible spill.
“The situation is under control without risks,” Mr. Rosero said.
In May, another freighter ran aground in the Galápagos. Officials said it was removed and no harm was done to the UNESCO World Heritage site.
In 2001 an oil tanker carrying 150,000 gallons of diesel caused serious environmental damage and affected several animal species after it became stranded.
Officials estimate that about 15 days will be needed to complete the refloating and removing of the Floreana freighter.
The Galápagos Islands lie in the Pacific Ocean, some 620 miles off the coast of Ecuador. Charles Darwin visited the islands in 1835.
There are currently about 25,000 people living on four of the islands in the group: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela and Floreana. The chain is made up of 13 large volcanic islands, six smaller islands and 107 rocks and islets.
Last year about 220,000 tourists visited the Galápagos.
Credit: The Wall Street Journal, www.wsj.com