QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador's environment minister, Raul Ledesma, said on Monday that a situation involving a sunken barge in the Galapagos Islands which was carrying 600 gallons of diesel is under control but added that authorities are "very concerned" about the vessel's recovery.
The barge sank on Sunday after a crane at the La Predial dock of San Cristobal - the easternmost island of the Galapagos archipelago - fell while unloading cargo, Ecuador's navy said in a statement on Twitter.
Located around 1,000 kilometres from mainland Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are home to a variety of flora and fauna that famously helped inspire Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution following his 1835 visit.
The islands, which are included on the world heritage list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), were labelled as at risk in 2007 after population growth, fishing, and tourism had put pressure on natural resources there, though the designation was removed in 2010 following work by Ecuador.
The crane was taking off a container holding an electricity generator when it fell into the vessel, causing it to sink. Ledesma said the sunken generator was the source of the oil seen in the water.
The vessel was carrying the fuel for its own operations, Ledesma told Reuters. "It was not transporting fuel," he said. "The oils that are leaking are from the machine that was inside the container, so this is the oil that can be seen leaking."
Ecuador's Navy, alongside authorities from the Galapagos National Park, placed barriers and hydrocarbon-absorbing cloths around the stricken vessel to prevent the dispersal of anything that might leak.
One person was injured in the incident, said the attorney general's office, which is investigating.
"This fuel spill could have caused serious effects on the sensitive ecosystem of this protected area," the attorney general's office said.
Ledesma said sea iguanas and two sea lions had been tested following the accident but added that no bad effects on their health had been reported.
The minister said that while the situation was under control, authorities could not afford to relax.
"We are very concerned about the recovery work of the tanks because there could be a potential spill if it is not done efficiently and swiftly," he said.
(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia in Quito, Ecuador; Additional reporting and writing by Oliver Griffin in Bogota, Colombia; Editing by Matthew Lewis)