Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)

Galapagos: Chronological account of the Tanker Jessica

Situation Report
Originally published
Galápagos National Park Press Releases

January 17, 2001 - Isla San Cristóbal, Galápagos. At approximately 2200 local time (UTC-6) on January 16, 2001, the tanker Jessica, owned by Acotramar, ran aground at Schiavoni Reef, about 800 meters from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal Island. The vessel was arriving from the port of Guayaquil on the Ecuadorian mainland, carrying 160.000 gallons of diesel destined to be delivered to the fuel dispatch station on Baltra Island, plus 80.000 gallons bunker fuel (IFO), which were to be used to fuel the tourist vessel Galápagos Explorer II. There has been no spill so far.

Coordinated action has been initiated between the Ecuadorian Navy and the Direction of the Galápagos National Park in order to prevent any spilling while the vessel is being towed. Floating barriers have been placed around the ship to prevent any dispersion of fuel in case of a spill. Sea conditions have been favorable, since waters remain calm. It is necessary to emphasize that no spill has been produced so far, and that efforts are directed towards emptying the fuel tanks, which has already begun.

January 18, 2001. The situation of the vessel Jessica, aground in Wreck Bay on San Cristóbal Island, is worsening, considering that strong waves are expected for Sunday 21st or Monday 22nd of January. The arrival of contingency crews of the Ecuadorian Navy and of the U. S. Coast Guard is expected after a joint coordination effort carried out between the Galápagos National Park Service, the Ecuadorian Ministry for Environment and the U. S. Embassy in Ecuador.

The vessel has listed to 25 degrees. This situation, together with a mistake made by the crew of the ship, has caused a spill of the bunker fuel that was being evacuated in a joint maneuver of the Ecuadorian Navy and Petroecuador, the Ecuadorian state-owned oil company. An effort to evacuate the fuel from the vessel has been hampered by Petroecuador, which seems to be more interested in rescuing the fuel without contaminating it with sea water instead of saving the unique flora and fauna of the archipelago. Our efforts are aimed at control of the bunker spill that keeps advancing - the Galápagos National Park Service has suggested that use of non-approved oil dispersants be avoided. It has also recommended that any fuel evacuation be accompanied by simultaneous filling of the emptying tanks with seawater to avoid further listing of the vessel; this however requires the prior approval of the Port Captain of San Cristóbal. A complete plan for monitoring the biodiversity in the actual and potential impact zone has been devised, in order to have baseline data available to allow measurement of the impact and to determine mitigation actions.

January 19-20, 2001. On January 19, 2001, at about 17:30 local time a new bunker fuel spill was detected around the vessel. This spill was not related to the previous day's mistake of the ship's crew. This new spill, of approximately 2000 gallons, was caused by a fissure in one of the vessel's bunker fuel tanks (representing about 25% of the fuel contained in the ship), or by a faulty valve in the ships piping system. It is feared that this bunker spill will increase considerably during the next hours.

In the early hours of January 20, 2001, and considering that this new spill could not be contained by absorbing fences that surrounded the vessel, the Galápagos National Park Service initiated a mitigation procedure with more than 60 park wardens and the collaboration of the Charles Darwin Foundation. It is important to note that the effort has been joined from the very beginning by local fishermen, the tourism sector and the local population of San Cristóbal. Mitigation activities include collecting the fuel disseminated on the water; rescuing wildlife like boobies, pelicans and sea lions (these being evacuated to the coast); and the building of corrals to contain the animals while the emergency lasts. So far only 35.000 gallons of diesel out of 174.000 on board have been evacuated. Bunker evacuation has been nearly impossible, and the arrival of the contingency crews, confirmed for January 21 at about 09:00, is anxiously awaited. This special crew brings along the necessary technical equipment to evacuate as soon as possible the remaining fuel, as well as absorbing material and an inflatable tank with a holding capacity of 50.000 gallons. It is also expected that in the afternoon of January 20 at about 17:00 local time, an Ecuadorian Navy aircraft will arrive at San Cristóbal airport with additional dispersing and absorbing material.

According to latest data obtained by Galápagos National Park Service and Charles Darwin Foundation technicians at 13:45 hours on January 20, the spill has an approximate area of between 260 and 310 square kilometers and is headed Northwest at about one knot. Currently the spill is a few miles off Santa Fe island and is estimated to be traveling towards the center of the archipelago. As to the effect on the coastline of San Cristóbal, it has been calculated that 5 to 10% of Wreck Bay has been directly affected. Seven sea lions and approximately 15 birds (pelicans and blue-footed boobies) are affected by the fuel. Galápagos National Park staff is treating these animals to avoid their death.

The latest update, received at 15:30 hours local time, indicates that the situation in San Cristóbal remains unchanged. The spill is slowly leaving Wreck Bay due to the wind and prevailing ocean currents without affecting major wildlife populations in the impact zone. It is important to count on national and international collaboration regarding logistics and financial support, in order to mitigate a truly serious situation. The Galápagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Foundation are currently working on this collaboration.

Diego Bonilla Urbina, M. Sc.
Deputy Director
Galápagos National Park

January 23, 2001. A CDRS marine biologist and two volunteers joined GNPS personnel on Isla Santa Fe yesterday to wash and treat sea lion pups that had been oiled there. Today we received word that 17 pups have been treated and released and that all are now in a healthy condition. The CDRS is training the National Park guards in the washing and treatment process so that they can continue helping any more oiled pups. CDRS staff should return to Santa Cruz tonight or tomorrow depending on when a boat becomes available. At this stage no animals or birds have been brought to the CDRS rescue center in Santa Cruz.

In coordination with the GNPS two teams of scientists are monitoring impacts. One team in the CDRS vessel Spondylus is monitoring the area between Santa Fe and Santa Cruz and up to Islas Plazas. They are looking for patches of diesel or bunker fuel and trying to predict how far the fuel will spread. Another team in a privately-owned motor launch is monitoring the east coast of Santa Cruz for patches of bunker fuel and any oiled wildlife.

Marine biologists on Isla San Cristóbal are collecting samples from the intertidal zone to determine the impact on organisms found in the area. Volunteers from the Research Station are coordinating cleaning activities at Academy Bay and Tortuga Bay in Santa Cruz island because bunker fuel has reached the coast of this island this afternoon.

January 24, 2001

San Cristóbal: Of the many oiled pelicans on the island only four heavily oiled juvenile pelicans have needed to be cleaned; they are still sick so they are being monitored. One gull with small patches of oil is being monitored, but does not need to be cleaned.

Many sea lion pups have eye infections. Before the oil spill only five individuals were infected but now approximately 50 pups and two juveniles are reported to have eye infections.

Dead fish, particularly puffer fish, have been reported. In the intertidal zone great quantities of green sea urchins, and red and green alga have died. Fortunately, so far no oiled marine iguanas have been reported.

The remaining fuel continues to leak from the vessel, which has to be stabilized before extraction can continue.

Santa Cruz: The fuel reached Tortuga Bay, Santa Cruz Island, yesterday. Today the GNPS has coordinated a team about 200 locals, and CDRS and GNPS personnel to try and clean up the oil. The volunteers are raking a 3-5 cm layer of bunker fuel from the sand and putting it into bags. Hundreds of bags were filled today and work will continue tomorrow. No oiled animals were sighted.

Using aerial surveys and data on sea currents, a map predicting the oil flow was made. According to predictions the fuel should continue moving up the eastern coast of Santa Cruz. The CDRS vessel Spondylus is monitoring the area between northeastern Santa Cruz and Bartolomé. It is checking particularly for patches of bunker fuel, which would be the most harmful for penguins. A second team is monitoring the west coast of Santa Cruz, in a CDRS motor launch.

So far no oiled wildlife has been brought to the Santa Cruz rescue center.

Several teams of experts arrived at noon bringing specialist advice, experience, and equipment to collaborate with local Park and Station personnel treating oiled birds and sea lions. These teams belong to the International Bird Rescue Research Center and the Sea Research and Rescue Center.

Santa Fe: Scientists and volunteers from the Station remained on Santa Fe last night, and throughout the day today, to continue treatment of the affected sea lions. There has been a small population of sea lions affected by the fuel spill, along the rocky coast of Santa Fe Island. Galápagos National Park Wardens have been present on Santa Fe since Monday, monitoring the conditions of the islands' sea lion population. Through joint efforts of the Park and Station, 26 affected sea lion pups have been collected and cleaned on-site.

A further fuel spill has been detected and deterred from entering the coast of Santa Fe. It was collected through mesh nets, absorbents, and dispersals. The National Park Service Wardens will remain on Santa Fe throughout the night to monitor the affected population of sea lions, and prevent further fuel from reaching the island's coastline.

No other populations of sea lions throughout the island have been found affected by the spill.

The members of the Charles Darwin Research Station who were on Santa Fe have returned to Santa Cruz to strengthen the efforts from headquarters.

January 25, 2001

San Cristóbal: Yesterday evening a combined team from the International Bird Rescue Research Center and the Sea Research and Rescue Center traveled to San Cristóbal from Santa Cruz in a tourist boat that was generously offered for their use. The team will sleep on board the boat while they stay in San Cristóbal. Today part of the team will monitor the northern coast of the island looking for oiled wildlife.

Marine biologists from the CDRS also traveled to San Cristóbal yesterday, to help staff who are already there to count sea lions and birds and to monitor and collect samples from the intertidal zones, so they can better define the impacts on the marine community.

The work of stabilizing the tanker Jessica, conducted by technicians from the Ecuadorian Navy, began this morning. After noon the work of positioning anchors had to be delayed because of heavy swells at mid-day. The operations are intended to salvage the remaining fuel from the ship, but especially to move it to a definitive location. Also, attempts are being made to seal off leaks so that additional petroleum products and other flotsam do not further contaminate the waters of Wreck Bay. The Coast Guard team determined that its work could only proceed once the ship's list is reduced to no more than 5 or 10 degrees.

In the next few hours an inventory of materials needed to continue the operation will be prepared. In case of necessity, the Emergency Committee, set up by the Minister of the Environment and overseen by the Provincial Governor, has requested from the mainland 10 more drums of dispersants, absorbing material and other mitigation materials. Also items like medications, sun screen and rehydration fluids for the teams in the field are all part of the requirements passed on to the Ministry of Health in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Provincial Capital of Galápagos.

Unlike Santa Cruz, drinking water on this island does not come from the coastal areas so there is no danger to the local population in this regard.

The Minister of the Environment, Arq. Rodolfo Rendon, arrived at noon and has been in planning sessions since 1430 with the North American technicians and representatives of the Armed Forces dealing with the stabilization of the ship, to establish actions for the days to come and to deal with questions of the final disposal of the ship.

At 1530 a small fuel leak was sprung but dealt with immediately by personnel from the Galápagos National Park and the attending ship Syrius, applying dispersants within less than five minutes. The national and international press in large numbers are covering the clean-up and monitoring operations wherever animals are affected.

Santa Cruz: Experts from the International Bird Rescue Research Center and the Sea Research and Rescue Center evaluated the rescue center that had been established at the Station headquarters. In order to create a more accessible site, the rescue center was relocated, equipment was transferred, and the center was set up in the Marine Biology Laboratory. Still no oiled wildlife has been brought to this center.

A team of CDRS and GNPS personnel took samples of sand from the polluted beaches of Tortuga Bay and Academy Bay. They are determining the level of contamination in the sand.

After reports of a patch of fuel drifting between Isabela and Santa Cruz, three launches have been sent to search the area this afternoon. One is traveling to Isla Pinzón, another to mid-eastern Isabela and the third to Cartago Bay on northeastern Isabela.

A team of CDRS marine biologists spent the day monitoring the subtidal and the intertidal zones of southern Santa Cruz. They were collecting biological information in Academy Bay, Tortuga Bay and Punta Estrada.

From 0600 National Park personnel were busy coordinating field efforts to remove contamination on the beach of Bahia Tortuga (just west of the port). The clean-up was completed at 1300 with no trace of oil left on the sand, although further monitoring is following the slick still at sea in that region. Small amounts of oil were reported at El Garrapatero (just east of the port) and were removed by Park personnel with absorbent towels.

The National Park, with the support of the Tourism Chamber, is coordinating the following actions:

1. Two fast launches sent out with GPS equipment to pin-point other possible slicks reported in the central region of Galápagos, between the south coast of Santa Cruz, Isabela Island, past Pinzon Island and Santiago. It was found that a stain of about 7 nautical miles which was originally reported as oil is in fact a natural area of dense plankton bloom, or red tide, which was corroborated by satellite imagery. Also, reports from tour ships travelling around Genovesa, Bartolomé, Seymour, Española and Cerro Dragon indicated no presence of oil.

2. Securing more absorbent towels, which the providers in Ecuador have advised are running out.

3. A system of on-going meetings to coordinate the interchange of information on actions by different local bodies. This includes the formation of volunteer groups.

Santa Fe: The current situation on Santa Fe is stable and reassuring. This morning members of the International Bird Rescue Research Center and specialists from the Sea Research and Rescue Center arrived to check the condition of the birds and sea lions found on the island. The monitoring group from the Galápagos National Park, which is equipped and on standby in case of need, reports having to clean only two young sea lions with very light oil stains in their fur. These were released after cleaning with no complications.

After the previous day's work of cleaning oil from other sea lions, they were pleased to find all were still clean.

January 26, 2001

San Cristóbal: Yesterday CDRS personnel monitored the northern shoreline of San Cristóbal looking for oiled wildlife. Today they will concentrate on the southwestern shoreline. They hope to start washing and treating the contaminated pelicans today and to train GNP personnel in the specific techniques.

After monitoring the subtidal and intertidal zones of the island yesterday, CDRS marine biologists haven't found any more sick sea lions (apart from the eye infections reported earlier, and one sea lion with a diesel burn). They have organized teams of volunteers to monitor the beaches, check the water quality, look for oil patches and take samples. So far the intertidal animals such as crabs and snails seem to be unharmed.

Santa Cruz: Last night a monitoring committee was formed in Santa Cruz. It comprises the Galápagos National Park, the Port Captain, the Chamber of Tourism, the local Police and the Charles Darwin Research Station. This committee will coordinate all monitoring activities on Santa Cruz. Collaboration between the various stakeholders in Galápagos has been impressive and makes mitigation and monitoring efforts much more effective.

Yesterday three boats were sent by the Galápagos National Park to monitor the zone between Santa Cruz and Isabela after a local fishing boat reported a possible slick in that area. This report was confirmed by local commercial airline on one of their inter-island flights. However, when one of the boats came upon the slick they discovered that it was actually a "red tide" (a large area of bio-aquatic organisms).

Today there were more reports of a small slick between Floreana, Santa Fe, and Española. All tour boats that are in the area have been asked to deviate their course in order to find the slick and report its location if they sight it. To support monitoring operations, all tour boats are required to radio the Santa Cruz Port captain, with their location and any useful information, three times a day.

At 1000 some CDRS scientists and volunteers went to a small beach near the Station headquarters to clean up bunker fuel that was reportedly found there. After successful clean up operations by local volunteers, GNP and CDRS personnel, Tortuga Bay was re-opened to the public yesterday.

Two CDRS staff members spent the morning monitoring for new patches of fuel or oiled wildlife. One of them covered the shoreline of Academy Bay making a survey of all the birds and marine vertebrates he sighted as well as checking for any oiled wildlife to send to the stabilization center at the Station Headquarters. The other joined GNP personnel in their launch the Guadalupe River to monitor the area between Santa Cruz, Pinzón and Bartolomé.

Santa Fe: At 0500 a team of students of the visiting scientist Martin Wikelski from Princeton University in the USA, traveled to Santa Fe. They will monitor the conditions of the marine iguanas on the island and take samples of the algae which the iguanas eat.

January 27, 2001

San Cristóbal: CDRS representatives on San Cristóbal have been coordinating with the Galápagos National Park teams to monitor the coasts. The teams are walking between Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and the sea lion colony checking the condition of sea lions in the area. They also plan to monitor Los Lobos, some small islets about ten kilometers northeast of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.

Santa Cruz: Yesterday a small commercial inter-island plane reported a possible slick of bunker fuel moving towards Floreana. This morning GNP and CDRS personnel gathered in the early hours at the Park dock to go to rescue any oiled wildlife. However when they arrived they received the welcome news that the threat to wildlife wasn't serious, so the trip was called off. Later in the day, a team was sent out to clean up fuel that was near the island.

Today there has been another report of a possible small slick of bunker fuel near Puerto Villamil on southern Isabela. A CDRS worker joined GNP personnel on a monitoring trip between Santa Cruz and Iguana Cove on southern Isabela on the Park motor launch Guadalupe River. The boat contains materials to clean up and contain the slick if one is found.

Today CDRS personnel and international specialists in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation are working with local veterinarians, training them in techniques for treating oiled wildlife. Efforts to treat and clean affected pelicans will continue. So far, animals on Santa Cruz have not been affected by the fuel spill.

Santa Fe: There is no Sante Fe report today.

January 28, 2001

The slicks that were reported yesterday have now reached the islands of Isabela and Floreana. This morning a National Park motor launch took CDRS (Charles Darwin Research Station) and GNPS (Galápagos National Park Service) personnel, and international specialists in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation to Puerto Villamil, on Isabela. They have equipment with them to clean and treat any oiled wildlife if the need arises. Another vessel Sirenian took GNPS personnel to Floreana to help with the clean up operations that started yesterday in the region of Las Cuevas, where a small but thick and viscous patch of bunker fuel was found in a cove. We are still waiting for reports from both islands concerning the extent of contamination and whether any wildlife is affected. Conditions have stabilized in San Cristóbal, so international specialists in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation that were helping to treat oiled wildlife in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno are returning to Santa Cruz. CDRS and GNPS personnel will continue monitoring the coast and wildlife of the island. The GNP and CDRS, with the collaboration of Galápagos tour operators, are continuing the air and sea search for patches of bunker fuel within the archipelago. All Galápagos institutions remain on full alert in case more fuel spills out of the damaged ship Jessica. It has not yet been possible to stabilize the ship and pump out the remaining fuel, which is thought to be only a small fraction of the original cargo.

January 29, 2001

Isabela: Reports of slicks keep coming in. Today we received news of bunker fuel in the vicinity of Cartago Bay on eastern Isabela. The Ecuadorian Coast Guard vessel 17 de diciembre left San Cristóbal this morning for Isabela with equipment to make a barrier at the entrance of the Bay to prevent any more fuel entering. At 0600 the GNPS (Galápagos National Park Service) and CDRS (Charles Darwin Research Station) personnel left Santa Cruz to help with clean up operations and to place the barrier in Cartago Bay. In the latest reports, no fuel has been detected close to the area. However, monitoring will continue throughout the week.

Further reports of fuel reaching the shore on southern Isabela came in this morning. The CDRS vessel Spondylus left at 0900 to monitor the area for any slicks.

Clean up operations continue on southern Isabela and eastern Floreana, but so far the impact to wildlife is minimal. All operations are being coordinated by the Galápagos National Park.

San Cristóbal: As part of CDRS support to the Park Service's spill mitigation program, 12 international experts and two CDRS scientists are rescuing and treating oiled birds. GNPS park rangers accompany the team on their monitoring trips in search of affected birds. The specialist team started to treat birds yesterday. Only the seriously affected birds were transported to the rescue center, where a general check-up was carried out to evaluate each animal's condition. Once an animal's condition was stable, it was cleaned. Each bird will stay in captivity for around 5 days until its plumage has recovered its impermeability. It will then be returned to its natural environment.

Santa Cruz: An expert in oil spills, Dr. Paul Kingston of Heriott Watt University, Edinburgh, has arrived in Santa Cruz to help in the aftermath of the fuel spill. Today together with CDRS marine biologists he will visit Tortuga Bay where they will collect sediment samples to measure the level of contamination in the area.

Sea lion monitoring and cleaning continues under CDRS and GNPS coordination. Pups cannot be separated from their mothers for than a few hours, so the cleaning takes place on site. If a very ill sea lion needs to be treated, facilities are ready at the Rescue Center.

January 30, 2001

The Galápagos National Park Service continues to coordinate the clean up, monitoring and wildlife rescue operations throughout the archipelago. The GNPS press release gives the latest information on their activities.

The Charles Darwin Research Station continues to support the GNPS efforts. Today a team of CDRS scientists left Santa Cruz in the tour boat Flamingo for a detailed inspection of the southern shore of Isabela over the next three days. If they find any slicks or endangered wildlife, they will call in support personnel.

A team of CDRS marine biologists, who are working with Dr. Paul Kingston, an expert in oil spills, also left Santa Cruz last night aboard the tour boat Nortada. During the next two days they will visit Isabela, Floreana, San Cristóbal and Santa Fe. The biologists will take sediment cores on each island to measure the level of contamination in the different sites. They will also take samples of small animals (e.g. crustaceans) found in the sand. These cores and samples will be analyzed at Heriott Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Now that fewer slicks are being reported and the state of emergency seems to be declining, it is time to start planning the next steps. In the next weeks assessments will be made of the impacted sites. The contamination level of each site will be evaluated along with the sensitivity of each site (e.g. mangroves are considered highly sensitive whereas cliff areas are less sensitive.) Selected sites and species will be monitored over the long-term to check any changes in feeding habits or reproduction after the fuel spill.

A contingency plan in case of future emergencies is being developed by the GNPS with the support of all the local groups involved in the cleanup operation.