Vets race to save penguins after 'catastrophic' oil spill in Peru

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Aerial view of cleaning crews working to remove oil from a beach annexed to the summer resort town of Ancon, northern Lima, on January 22, 2022 after a spill which occurred during the offloading process of the Italian-flagged tanker
An oil spill caused by abnormal waves after the volcanic eruption near Tonga during the offloading process of an Italian-flagged tanker at La Pampilla refinery. (Carlos Reyes/AFP via Getty Images)

Vets are caring for more than 40 birds including vulnerable Humboldt penguins at a zoo in Peru after a 'catastrophic' oil spill.

Dead seals, fish and birds have washed up on shore covered in oil, while fishing activities in the area have been suspended, the Peruvian government said.

Authorities said 6,000 barrels of oil spilled into the ocean last week near Spanish oil giant Repsol's La Pampilla refinery, which the company blamed on unusual waves triggered by a volcanic eruption near Tonga in the Pacific Ocean.

Watch: Peruvians race to rescue animals as oil spill spreads

Biologist Liseth Bermudez told AFP: "The birds' prognosis is unclear. We are doing everything we can. It is not a common occurrence and we are doing our best.

"We have never seen anything like this in the history of Peru. We didn't think it was going to be of this magnitude."

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Teams of vets are bathing afflicted birds with detergents in an attempt to remove oil.

A black mass of crude oil extended for miles along the shoreline, affecting the beaches of three coastal districts and leading to maritime contamination, killing birds and ocean microorganisms.

Aerial view of cleaning crews working to remove oil from a beach annexed to the summer resort town of Ancon, northern Lima, on January 22, 2022 after a spill which occurred during the offloading process of the Italian-flagged tanker
The spill stretched for miles in the ocean. (Carlos Reyes/AFP via Getty Images)

Fisherman Walter de la Cruz said: "I used to collect crustaceans, but now, when I walk to the shore, they are dead. Fishermen used to go sell the seafood that we collect. But now everything smells like death."

Repsol has declined to state the magnitude of the spill, saying it is still evaluating the impact.

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Peru's environmental agency OEFA said that about 1.7 million square meters of soil and 1.2 million square meters of ocean had been affected by the spill.

Repsol added it had deployed about 840 people to help with cleaning tasks. Repsol's La Pampilla accounts for 54% of Peru's refining capacity.

Aerial view of cleaning crews working to remove oil from a beach annexed to the summer resort town of Ancon, northern Lima, on January 22, 2022 after a spill which occurred during the offloading process of the Italian-flagged tanker
An aerial view of cleaning crews working to remove oil from a beach annexed to the summer resort town of Ancon, northern Lima. (Carlos Reyes/AFP via Getty Images)

Environment minister Ruben Ramirez gave the La Pampilla refinery two days to identify the critical points of the spill and to collect the oil within 10 days.

Fines could reach up to $33 million if responsibility for environmental damage were proven, he added.

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Ramirez said that the oil spill had occurred after a ship had been rocked by unusually large waves as it had been unloading crude oil to the La Pampilla refinery.

Over the weekend, two people drowned off Peruvian beaches, incidents blamed on the unusually high waves.

Watch: Peru zoo races to save penguins after oil spill

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