Scuba divers have inspected a tourist vessel that sank in Galapagos on Saturday (23 April) and confirmed that diesel fuel is no longer escaping from its tanks. The spillage from a pipe fractured in the sinking had raised fears of contamination at the World Heritage Site.
Four crew, the only people on board at the time, are understood to have escaped unharmed from the Albatros when it sank in Academia Bay, the natural harbour of the town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island.
Initial reports described the vessel as a scuba-diving boat, although long-established Albatros Tours & Dive Resort, which is based in Puerto Ayora, confirmed to Divernet that its own dive-boat Galapagos Diver was unconnected with the incident.
An underwater photograph issued by the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park (DPNG), part of Ecuador’s environment ministry, appeared to show a small vessel, although the directorate had stated that it had been carrying some 9000 litres of fuel. It said that its rangers had taken immediate action to protect the marine eco-system by deploying floating barriers, oil-absorbent materials and biodegradable dispersants to contain the spillage.
The DPNG had worked alongside the municipal authorities, experts from state oil company Petroecuador, tourist operators and local volunteers following the sinking.
The vessel’s owner has already begun an underwater clean-up of the wreck using its own divers, sealing the hole through which the diesel was escaping and starting to remove the remaining fuel. Two DPNG divers who surveyed the wreck have confirmed that fuel is no longer escaping but that contaminated debris remained scattered around the site.
A number of beaches around the bay were closed to recreational users over the weekend as a precaution, as drone footage indicated that tidal movement could disperse the initial slick.
A clean-up was carried out on nearby Germans beach by the municipal authority with the aid of the fire service, army and local volunteers. Park rangers have so far found no signs of the spill having affected the bay’s marine life.
Under Galapagos’s strict environmental regulations the wreck has to be raised and removed once arrangements have been made with the insurers. Meanwhile warning marker buoys have been placed to keep other vessels clear of the site.
The last significant fuel spillage in Galapagos occurred in 2001, when an oil tanker ran aground on San Cristobal and lost some 600,000 litres of the 800 tonnes of diesel fuel it was carrying. Also off San Cristobal, in December 2019 a sinking barge spilled 2700 litres of diesel.