By Gram Slattery and Pedro Fonseca RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 1 (Reuters) – Brazilian police on Friday raided the offices of a Greek company as they investigate an oil tanker carrying heavy Venezuelan crude that was allegedly spilled at sea, tarring thousands of kilometers of Brazil’s coastline over the past two months.
Prosecutors said they had narrowed suspects down to a Greek-flagged ship, which they did not name, that 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.
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 said they were carrying out search warrants at addresses linked to a company of Greek nationality. Brazilian authorities said they had also requested cooperation from international agencies, including Interpol, to further investigate the ship, its crew and the company.
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 on July 15.
Federal prosecutors said Brazil’s navy also had information regarding a 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.
By the end of October, the oil spill first registered in late August had been reported in 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 Gram Slattery and Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro Additional reporting by Luc Cohen in Caracas Writing by Gabriela Mello and Ana Mano Editing by Marguerita Choy and Jonathan Oatis)
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