Refinery spill coats nature preserve

Last updated 11:37 28/08/2012
Isla Oil

POLLUTING: The sun sets behind the Isla oil refinery. A spill from the refinery has polluted a neighbouring nature preserve.

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An extensive fuel spill has fouled a stretch of shoreline and oiled pink flamingos and other wildlife in a nature preserve in Curacao, conservationists and residents of the tiny Dutch Caribbean island say.

The leader of a local environmental group said Monday (local time) the spill of crude oil at Curacao's Jan Kok preserve was from at least one storage tank owned by the Isla oil refinery, the largest business and employer on the southern Caribbean island best known for its diving opportunities and colorful capital of Willemstad. The island's refinery is run by the state-owned oil company of Venezuela, only about 40 miles (60km) away.

"This is probably the biggest (environmental) disaster in Curacao," said Peter van Leeuwen of the Stichting SMOC group. "The whole area of Jan Kok is black. The birds are black. The crabs are black. The plants are black. Everything is draped in oil."

Curacao-based journalist Dick Drayer, who covers the Netherlands Antilles for Dutch television, estimated that the spill covers an area "of around 30 soccer fields". He added that three distinct oil slicks are floating offshore and are "threatening the southern coast of Curacao".

Photographs of Curacao's southern Jan Kok area show a darkened coast and gobs of oil dripping off of coastline rocks and mixing in the surf. Oil-smudged flamingos, crustaceans, and lizards can be seen struggling on the wind-swept reserve of salt flats.

Van Leeuwen said the spill started threatening wildlife sometime last week but cleanup efforts by the company only recently got under way at the nature reserve, no more than 1000 metres away from big tanks where Petroleos de Venezuela SA stores thousands of gallons of crude oil.

"A lot of time has gone by without any action. It's been about one week before somebody at the company has done anything at all," he said, adding that workmen were now excavating holes on Jan Kok's beach to capture the spilled oil and mix it with sand and soil in order to cart it away.

Numerous calls to Kenneth Gijsbertha, the Curacao spokesman for the Isla oil refinery, went unanswered.

The Isla refinery is a sprawling expanse of metal pipes, chemical converters and concrete by Willemstad's bay. For years, activists have complained about the thick haze of smoke that sometimes blankets the area around the refinery, which can produce roughly 220,000 barrels a day.

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- AP

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