May 23, 2014
Two weeks after the cargo ship Galapaface I ran aground near the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal, efforts to remove it from the rocks are still underway, and it could take up to a month to move it safely. Salvage workers unloaded 46 tanks of lubricating oil stored in the ship’s lower hold earlier this week, and the tanks were found to be in good condition with no leakage present. This follows the safe removal of 19,000 gallons of diesel fuel, which represented the greatest threat to the environment.
The Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment and the Galapagos National Park (GNP) are monitoring the salvage efforts closely and doing everything possible to prevent contamination of the waters off San Cristobal. Divers from the GNP, the Ministry of Environment, and the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) conducted ecological monitoring of the ocean floor in strategic locations around the ship in order to create a baseline of the state of marine life in the area. Technicians are regularly monitoring water samples to ensure no toxic substances are leaking from the Galapaface I. On land, Ministry of Environment officials are walking the banks around the area to look for possible changes in the behavior of nearby species or any direct effects. To date, there have not been any reported issues.
The State of Emergency declared by the Ecuadorian government on May 15 remains in effect to ensure the necessary resources for safely removing the ship from the rocks. Authorities also closed two popular tourist spots at Punta Carola beach and Cerro Tijeretas (the Galapaface I is grounded about 500 feet [150 meters] off Punta Carola). These areas will remain closed until the state of emergency is no longer in effect.
For many San Cristobal residents, this incident has brought back unpleasant memories of oil tanker Jessica that ran aground in the same bay off San Cristobal in 2001 — and ultimately spilled 175,000 gallons of diesel and fuel oil into the ocean in one of the worst environmental disasters in Galapagos history. While a similar fate from the Galapaface I has been averted, authorities are taking every precaution to protect the fragile Galapagos ecosystem from contaminants that may result from the ship’s grounding or removal.
Portions of this article were translated with permission from the Galapagos National Park Directorate. Please contact Galapagos Conservancy with inquiries.