The Galapagos Islands can soon say goodbye to Galapaface I, the shipwrecked tanker that posed an environmental risk to the fragile Galapagos ecosystem for two long months. The cargo ship, which ran aground off Punta Carola, San Cristobal on May 9, is currently being towed to its final resting site, where it shall be scuttled in 2500 metres of water.
Over the past few days the ship, which originally threatened the Archipelago with 19,000 gallons of fuel oil and 1,100 tons of cargo, was stabilised and refloated by having giant steel buoys welded onto its hull.
At 2AM on Tuesday, it began its 24-30 hour journey to a site 20 miles east of the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR). There, it shall be sunk in an operation that has been calculated to have almost no impact on the environment. It is currently being accompanied by 16 crew members and other ships which will retrieve the sailors before the sinking.
Minister of the Environment Lorena Tapia said that no efforts were spared in order to protect the Galapagos ecosystem during this emergency. “Today, we see the fruits of our hard work”, she said. Indeed, the Ecuadorian government can be praised for its timely action; it declared a state of emergency a week after the grounding in order to cut through red tape and ensure a flow of resources to tackle the threat which the ship posed.
The Galapagos National Park will also monitor the site of the original grounding for two months to determine the environmental impacts on the area. Once all the tests are completed the site, which has been closed to the public ever since the grounding, shall reopen.
This incident had a much more positive outcome than that of the Jessica, the oil tanker that spilled almost all of its 240,000 gallons of petroleum products into the GMR in January 2001. Thanks to the quick response of the authorities, disaster was averted this time.
by Jose Hong