Oil spills in Venezuela

planet earth (riccawu@MNSi.Net)
Sat, 17 May 1997 10:30:16 -0400


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>Return-Path: <Richard_Gendron@cme.qc.ca>
>From: Richard_Gendron@cme.qc.ca
>To: caucus2@web.net
>Reply-To: Richard_Gendron@cme.qc.ca
>Date: Fri, 16 May 1997 22:51:02 -0500
>Subject: Oil spills in Venezuela
>References: <3.0.1.32.19970512135744.0069c788@pop.web.net>
>Organization: Club Macintosh de l'Estrie
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>For your information...
>
>(FWD)
>
>* BLACK THURSDAY IN VENEZUELA
>
>A huge oil spill promises to block Venezuela=B4s economic artery on
>Thursday, May 15, 1997
>_____________________________________________________________
>
>In the middle of the night of February 28, a Greek tanker, the Nissos
>Amorgos, fractured its hull in the navigation channel of Lake Maracaibo.
>In a matter of hour, 25,000 barrels of heavy oil spilled into the
>waters. Heavy oil is known to contain highly toxic compounds. The
>social, environmental, economic and political impact has since
>mushroomed to such an extent that it is now threatening to at least
>temporarily block the flow of oil from Venezuela to the rest of the
>world.
>
>The accident did not only opened a breach in the ship's hull. It also
>fractured the shield of impunity and incompetence with which government
>bureaucrats had been able to operate this vital navigation channel,
>through which 70 percent of Venezuela=B4s oil is exported. Venezuela is
>the largest exporter of oil in the Western Hemisphere, produces 3
>million barrels of oil a day, and exports nearly 2.5 million barrels in
>crude and products to the international market.=20
>
>Between February of 1996 and February of 1997, an average of one
>accident has taken place in the navigation channel of Maracaibo Lake
>every 40 days, an awesome record considering the unique importance of
>this shipping highway to the Venezuelan economy. This time, however, the
>endurance of the many ordinary people directly affected reached its
>limits. Some 20,000 fishermen, members of FETRAPESCA, the federation of
>fishermen unions, have decided to block the channel on Thursday, May 15.
>It is a sign of protest for the way government officials and the
>shipping industry have ignored their interests and claims. It is also an
>action meant to call the attention of the international community on the
>recurrent and dramatic impact of oil spills in the largest lake of South
>America, extending over 13,280 square kilometers.
>
>On the 15th of May, from 3,000 to as many as 5,000 fishing boats are
>expected to block shipping traffic to or from Lake Maracaibo. Each boat
>will carry a black flag, a sign of mourning for the irreversible damages
>that has been caused to both people and the environment. The measure
>will affect the flow of about 1.5 million barrels of oil that day alone,
>with a value of 25 million dollars. The protest is being organized by
>Albino Hernandez, who successfully organized the blockade of this same
>channel 25 years ago, despite aggressive and public threats voiced by
>the President and the military at the time. Ironically, it is the same
>President who is now in office, Rafael Caldera, re-elected at a peak of
>political turmoil three years ago.
>
>In only two months since the spill took place, fishing in the Lake has
>dropped to half its normal rate, representing a loss of about 40 million
>dollars to fishermen alone. The loss to the industry has not been
>quantified. On Monday, May the 5th, a local judge ruled on the
>preventive embargo of property of the owners of the Nissos Amorgos, for
>290 million dollars. The Attorney General has announced the introduction
>of a lawsuit in the name of the Nation for violation of the Law of the
>Environment. In the mean time, the fishermen have introduced a lawsuit
>against the owners of the tanker for 130 million dollars.=20
>
>The captain of the ship, Konstadinos Spiropulos, has been temporarily
>detained, while obscure aspect of the case comes to the surface. The
>incident took place almost in the same spot where another Greek tanker,
>the Olympic Sponsor, punctured its hull on the 10th of March last year.
>In that opportunity, however, the double bottom of the ship prevented a
>spill. Nevertheless, it has called the attention of intelligence
>services that both ships seem to belong to the same owners, and that one
>of the official on duty when the Olympic Sponsor punctured its hull was
>also on duty on another tanker, the Corellis, when it had a similar
>accident in the same area a month later, on April 10. The theory of foul
>play is thus under consideration, enhanced by the reported lobbying in
>London and Washington for the de-certification of this navigation
>channel, a major threat to the already shattered economic and political
>stability of the country.
>
>These accidents have occurred in the general area where a ship by the
>name of The Explorer sank nine years ago. It is argued that rests of the
>Explorer punctured the hull of the Nissos Amorgos. The navigation
>channel is now being cleared of accumulated debris, at a cost of nearly
>50,000 dollars a day. Due mainly to negligence, maintenance had been
>ignored for over a year, causing the accumulation of sediments in the
>order of 10 million cubic meters. This in turn has increased shipping
>costs, due to the idle capacity of tankers caused by the reduction in
>navigable depth to 34 feet.=20
>
>The ecological damage derived from the spill of heavy oil from the
>Nissos Amorgos is immense. It is expected to grow, leaving a trail of
>desolation and despair, and seriously affecting reproductive and
>biological processes in the area. This oil spill could be classified as
>a major environmental disaster, affecting the ecosystem as well as vital
>interests of local people. However, the Ministry of the Environment and
>other relevant government authorities have openly attempted to conceal
>the importance of the case, and have failed to properly inform the
>general public about its magnitude and consequences. The action taken by
>fishermen is therefore charged with political significance. It is the
>awakening of people in defense of their legitimate rights, after decades
>of abuse, and a challenge to the ineptitude and corruption of government
>authorities who have lost the trust of the people they are supposed to
>represent.=20
>
>In a late attempt to calm the rage of local people, the Congress has
>promised to declare the navigation channel as a National Security Zone,
>according to Article 15 of the Law on Security and Defense. It also
>plans to request from the national oil industry, PDVSA, a review of its
>contingency plans, and an update of its infrastructure to handle
>emergencies of this nature. Surprisingly enough, PDVSA's contingency
>plans are limited to light oil, of little use in cases like this, where
>heavy oil was spilled, sinking into the waters. This has prompted the
>proposal from the Commission on the Environment of the Chamber of
>Deputies for PDVSA to immediately update technology and contingency
>plans, so as to be able to deals with eventualities of this nature.
>
>INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENTS
>
>Intertanko is an international association representing two thirds of
>the independent fleet of tankers worldwide. Its President, Daglin Lunde,
>argues that international agreements have been violated by the
>preventive arrest of the captain of the Nissos Amorgos, by the=20
>preventive embargo of the ship itself, and by the introduction of a
>lawsuit by the Attorney General in the name of the country.=20
>
>Venezuela is signatory to two agreements at the International Maritime
>Organization, covering risks and compensation for accidental oil spills.
>The first, subscribed 28 years ago, indicates a maximum compensation of
>7.2 million dollars for civil responsibility, amount swiftly subscribed
>by the insurance company of the Nissos Amorgos soon after the accident.
>On the other hand, there is a Compensation Fund of 85 million dollars,
>subscribed not by governments but by oil companies and importers, and
>created to respond to demands and lawsuits. According to Lunde, the
>Compensation Fund has been used in 70 cases already, and has been
>instrumental to resolve most such cases out of court. Lunde does not
>understand why these mechanisms are not considered sufficient by
>Venezuela in the case of the Nissos Amorgos.=20
>
>MORE OIL HITS THE WATERS
>
>Maracaibo Lake has become a disaster area not only from the reiterating
>oil spills from tankers. During at least half a century it has been the
>object of serious contamination with urban, industrial and agricultural
>waste, erosion and sedimentation. Spills also occur regularly from the
>many oil wells in the area. Just one month before the scandal of the
>Nissos Amorgos, simultaneous spills from two wells were detected,
>ironically named Mosquito 2 and Mosquito 3. By the time the spills were
>detected, these wells had been leaking their lethal dose of "the devil's
>excrement" [as oil is often referred to in Venezuela] into the lake for
>over two weeks, seriously damaging neighboring mangroves and local
>wildlife. The impact of this and similar spills could have been
>prevented or minimized, had there been an efficient monitoring system in
>place by the oil industry. Mosquito 3 had been shut down for 10 years.
>No one noticed that one whole kilometer of oil-duct leading to this well
>had been stolen, as well as complementary equipment to control the flow
>of oil.
>
>This story if far from over. Nevertheless, one conclusion to be drawn so
>far is the importance of civic action as a mechanisms to overcome the
>incompetence of government bureaucracies, and their tendency to come to
>agreements without due consideration for the plight of those directly
>affected by incidents of this nature. No longer will people around
>Maracaibo Lake become passive victims of government inaction, or of the
>lack of compliance by the oil and the shipping industry with national
>and international regulations on the environmental and social impact of
>oil spills. Black Thursday is expected to become a powerful political
>symbol of what people can achieve in defense of their legitimate rights,
>in a country where basic human rights have been consistently abused for
>decades.=20
>_______________________________________________
>Julio Cesar Centeno, PhD
>Las Tapias, Edif. Carreto =20
>Pent House Tel. +58-74-714576
>PO Box 750 Fax +58-74-714576
>Merida - Venezuela Email: JCenteno@ciens.ula.ve
>_______________________________________________
>
>=20
>
>

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