Red Alert Posted After Ammonium Nitrate Barge Sinks Off Puntarenas

A Coast Guard boat warns bathers of the dangers of swimming in the sea in Puntarenas May 3, 2015.
A Coast Guard boat warns bathers of the dangers of swimming in the sea in Puntarenas May 3, 2015. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate

A public health emergency was declared in Costa Rica this weekend after a barge carrying ammonium nitrate sank off the country’s Pacific coast.

Costa Rica’s National Emergency Commission issued a ‘Red Alert’ for approximately 100 miles of coastline after the barge carrying 180 tons of ammonium nitrate sank in rough seas off the coast of Puntarenas on Saturday at approximately 2:30 p.m. Two crewmembers were rescued safely.

The initial alert was considered a precautionary measure to warn people of possible health hazards from swimming and fishing in the area.

As of Monday morning, the alert was downgraded to ‘Yellow’ after tests showed minimal risk to human health, but a ban on fishing remains in place. The alert will stay in effect until Wednesday as additional testing is carried out.

Authorities are now looking into salvaging the sunken vessel.

Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound generally used as a fertilizer or as an additive in explosives. It is said to be very soluble in water.