By Ricardo Brito BRASILIA, Nov 1 (Reuters) – Brazilian investigators said on Friday a Greek-flagged ship carrying Venezuelan crude was the source of oil tarring thousands of kilometers of coastline over the past two months.
While prosecutors and police did not name the vessel, a prosecutors’ document obtained by Reuters identified the ship as the Bouboulina, owned by Greece’s Delta Tankers Ltd. Police said the tanker appears to have spilled the crude about 700 km (420 miles) off Brazil’s coast between July 28-29, bound for Singapore with oil loaded at Venezuela’s San José terminal.
Delta Tankers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Brazil’s solicitor general said the country would seek damages in the case, which has stained tropical beaches along 2,500 km of coastline with a thick sludge, hurting tourism and fishing communities in the poorer northeast region.
“There is strong evidence that the company, the captain and the vessel’s crew failed to communicate authorities about the oil spill/release of the crude oil in the Atlantic Ocean,” Brazilian prosecutors said in a statement.
Federal police also carried out search warrants at the Rio de Janeiro addresses of Lachmann and Witt O’Briens, a subsidiary of Seacor Holdings Inc, according to the document seen by Reuters.
Neither maritime services company is suspected of criminal activity, although they both have commercial relationships with the Greek firm in question, police said, without naming any of the firms.
Neither firm immediately responded to requests for comment.
Brazilian authorities said they had also requested cooperation from international agencies, including Interpol, to further investigate the ship, its crew and the company.
Federal prosecutors said Brazil’s navy also had information regarding a prior detention of the vessel in the United States for four days due to “incorrect operating procedures related to the separation of oil and water for release in the sea.”
It was unclear when the U.S. detention occurred.
The police said oceanographic and geolocation data showed that the Greek ship was the only one navigating near the origin of the spill between July 28 and 29, after docking in Venezuela around July 15.
From late August to the end of October, the oil had washed ashore nine states and 94 cities, according to federal police, killing scores of animals and closing hundreds of beaches.
Brazil has so far collected some 2,000 tonnes of sludge from its beaches in continuing cleanup efforts, while working to rehabilitate birds and sea turtles coated in the thick crude.
The slow and patchwork cleanup efforts, along with weeks of confusion about the cause of the spill have spurred criticism of the Brazilian government’s response. Officials have said Brazil is following standard protocols since the start of the disaster.
Because the heavy crude does not float on the ocean surface like most oil slicks, officials said traditional methods of tracking it and keeping it off the shore have been ineffective. (Reporting by Ricardo Brito in Brasilia; Additional reporting by Gram Slattery and Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro, Luc Cohen in Caracas, additional reporting by Renee Maltezou in Athens Writing by Gabriela Mello and Ana Mano Editing by Marguerita Choy, Jonathan Oatis and Richard Chang)
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