Oil Spill Fouls Bay at Rio's Doorstep

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, September 7, 2005 (ENS) - At least 2,600 gallons of oil spilled into Guanabara Bay from a ship that collided with a pier during docking manueuvers on Saturday. Authorities first thought the oil spill was one-quarter that size, but after inspecting the extent of the spill, they revised their estimate upwards. The bay borders two cities - on its southwest shore is the city of Rio de Janeiro and on its southeast shore lies the city of Niterói.

The oil spilled by the Nassau registered ship, the Saga Mascote, has come ashore on Niterói beaches and authorities have halted fishing in the bay.

In a preliminary report, technicians with the State Environmental Engineering Foundation (Feema) said that eight beaches along the Niterói shoreline were affected by the oil. Most heavily hit was Icarai beach in Niterói, where hotels and condos line the shore and watersports like kitesurfing draw visitors from around the world.

The white sand was thick with greasy oil that spread for several meters above the waterline, filling the air with the smell of petroleum.

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Icarai beach in Niteroi was most impacted by the oil spill. (Photo credit unknown)
The ship collided with a pier at the Enavi-Renave shipyard, on Conceicao Island, in Niterói. The fuel tank was perforated in two places. Absorbent booms were placed around the spill and the shipyard transferred to part of the fuel aboard the Saga Mascote to another tank, preventing greater damage.

The Z-8 Fishermen's Colony in Niteroi estimates that at least 3,000 fishmen were harmed by the oil that spilled into Guanabara Bay.

Fishing has been prohibited in the area and a survey is underway to determine how many of the 12,000 fishmen associated with the colony work in the area affected by the accident.

The secretary of the Z-8 Fishermen's Colony, José Pulgas, said that the losses suffered by the affected workers "must have been substantial, since we are in the reproduction period for mussels and crabs and the spawning season for sardines."

He told the state run news agency Radiobras that the colony has received many complaints from fishermen whose fishing gear was damaged by the oil.

Pulgas said that they are only awaiting the Feema and Federal Police reports on the accident in order to start negotiating compensation payments with the shipowners or their Brazilian representatives.

"We want to discover who is responsible for the ship and try to work out a settlement. This will be the first approach, before taking the case to court, since the indemnifications for these kinds of accidents never reach the fishermen," Pulgas said.

"We have been battling for five years to receive compensation from Petrobras for the accident in 2001, and so far we haven't received anything," he said.

The Rio de Janeiro side of Guanabara Bay was not touched by the spill.