Author Carlos Sagrera, MSc.
Rev. Matthew Sommerville, Eng.
Official photos of the event can be viewed here:
Let’s be direct and get to the point. There are two Latin Americas in terms of oil spill prevention and response: one is Spanish-speaking Latin America and the other is Portuguese-speaking Latin America, i.e. Brazil. The first one has many gaps in planning and, as a result, complex issues in defining its real risk scenarios, which then has repercussions at the time of assessment and in relation to response, with resources that are always insufficient, with costly errors, especially for response at sea. And as you know, when the spill is not contained at sea, the coastline is impacted and the costs are multiplied. Brazil, on the other hand, has a very different reality. Demanding environmental legislation and contingency plans that are periodically validated (https://www.gov.br/ibama/pt-br/assuntos/fiscalizacao-e-protecao-ambiental/emergencias-ambientais/petroleo-e-derivados/pnc), with systematic exercises and reviews, mean that oil companies strictly comply with regulations, knowing that there are authorities that are very well trained in their specific areas that will not make concessions when it comes to permits and authorisations. In short, in that other Latin America, Brazil’s, there is serious environmental awareness among the actors. We can be sure that there is nothing to envy to developed countries, and probably with higher standards than many of them. And of course, it is when this happens that companies like OceanPact (www.oceanpact.com) are born and become possible. It is not the only one in Brazil of course, but OceanPact is the largest OSRO in Latin America and we are talking about thousands of professionals in all branches, stocks of equipment and very important materials in several bases, dozens of specialised vessels, but above all an immense credibility among all the actors in Brazil. How much of this we lack in the other Latin America…!
ISCO knew all this and has been following the evolution of OceanPact, a corporate member of ISCO for more than a decade. That is why when we had the meeting with its CEO Flavio P. de Andrade and his staff (Erik Cunha, Marcelo Cortés, Bernardo Assis) at the Clean Gulf in New Orleans (October 2022), we asked ourselves why we could not have meetings like the Clean Gulf in our continent and why we did not present the cases of incidents that happen to us in the region and not only talk about those that happen in the developed world and for example the DWH case that paradigmatic is repeated over and over again. Why do we always talk about the Torrey Canyon (UK, March 1967) and never mention the Metula (Chile, August 1974); why do we always mention the Amoco Cadiz (France, March 1978) and forget about the Ixtoc I (Mexico, June 1979) and also the Atlantic Empress (Trinidad and Tobago, July 1979); or the Exxon Valdez (USA, March 1989) and we leave out the Bahía Las Minas (Panama, April 1986), or the San Jorge (Uruguay, February 1997) and the Magdalena (Argentina, January 1999); we are still talking about the Erika in France (1999) or the Prestige in Spain (2002), and not of the case Bahía de Quinteros (Chile, September 2014); the spills on Mexican offshore platforms in the Campeche Sound (Usumacinta-2007; Júpiter-2011; Abkatun A and Troll in 2015), or even the spectacular case of “Ojo de Fuego” (Campeche Sound, July 2021); in addition to the Amazonian onshore spills in Ecuador (Coca and Napo rivers, April 2020), and in Peru itself (with hundreds of spills in the Amazonian oil fields and in the “Oleoducto Norperuano” in this 21st century); or the onshore cases in Colombia (Barranca Bermeja, March 2018), and of course the cases in Venezuela in the last decade (Guarapiche river, Paria peninsula, as well as the endemic and historical ones in Lake Maracaibo again and again)? ¿And the most emblematic cases in Brazil: Guanabara Bay (April 2000), Iguazu River (July 2000), from which the CDAs (Environmental Defence Centres) were created by PETROBRAS, in addition to the P-36 Platform incident (March 2001) or none other than that of Campo Frade the year after the DWH spill (November 2011)? It is like a law of silence and oblivion, a sort of omerta that covers the cases of spills in Latin America and so they quickly disappear, without the lessons learned by the industry in Latin America being fully exploited. And the echoes of the NGOs’ denunciations are recorded there, with good reasons, until time fades away. But of course, today we are in the third decade of the 21st century and times have changed, also in Latin America.
The idea thus arose to take three emblematic cases of this decade that had direct or indirect implications with Brazil and thus develop a Case Study event in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, the oil capital of Brazil (https://oceanpact.com/isco-seminar-brazil-2023/). The Peru Case in January 2022, in the port of El Callao (Mare Doricum Tanker & La Pampilla Refinery), involving a tanker from Angra Dos Reis with Brazilian crude oil, following a distant eruption on the island of Tonga in the Pacific Ocean, was the first to be accepted. Three international experts were invited to participate directly in this event: LCDR. Carlos Sagrera, Latin America ISCO Representative, sent by the IMO who advised the Government of Peru (https://spillcontrol.org/2023/07/24/volcanes-tsunami-refineria-la-pampilla-buque-tanque-mare-doricum-peru-2022/); Dr. Fanny Chever who was there with Engineer Emmanuelle Poupon (https://wwz.cedre.fr/en/content/download/10903/file/Bulletin-43-EN.pdf), now accompanied in Brazil by Licda. Elizabeth Marin, belonging to the prestigious CEDRE of France who had a transcendent specialised role in the United Nations report (https://eecentre.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/2022-02-24-PE-Oil-Spill-After-The-Spill-ENG. pdf), which was issued in conjunction with other organisations such as UNEP, OCHA and ISPRA of Italy, Salvamento Marítimo of Spain or the Norwegian Coastal Administration (https://www.actualidadambiental.pe/derrame-de-petroleo-naciones-unidas-emitio-informe-por-vertimiento-del-crudo-en-mar-peruano/); and the prestigious Dr. Valeria Ruoppolo of AIUKA of Brazil, who was in charge of the recovery of the affected wildlife on the Peruvian coast (https://compromisorepsol.pe/valeria-ruoppolo/). The experts presented multiple lessons learned from this incident, with the logical negative aspects and mistakes that every spill entails, including those of the responsible Peruvian public organisations (e.g. outdated National Contingency Plan), which did not have this risk scenario properly assessed, or the non-integration of a Unified Command, which resulted in an ICS managed by the company and authorities that managed to supervise remotely and receive information regularly, which on the one hand allowed rapid progress in the coastal clean-up and on the other hand made it difficult to reach consensus in the end-points of the different affected areas. But there were also positive aspects of the response in Peru that were well above the normal standards by which such incidents are handled in Spanish-speaking Latin America. On the one hand, the company’s own ICS, after the always chaotic initial assessment stage, had an excellent level of expertise from companies that are unanimously recognised in their fields. And on the other hand, in some aspects such as logistics and safety, the positive results, the resources mobilised, the quality of the work carried out by the Peruvian personnel hired, often in very difficult conditions due to the access and the places impacted, which is surely explained by the quality of Peru as a mining country. An official summary of the company’s actions can be found on its website (https://compromisorepsol.pe/avances-en-remediacion/) and on the part of the Peruvian state, the most detailed and precise official public report is the one issued by the Commission of Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian Peoples, Environment and Ecology in March 2023 (https://leyes.congreso.gob.pe/Documentos/2021_2026/Informes/Comisiones_Investigadoras/OFICIO-758-2022-2023-CPAAAAE-CR.pdf). Both MSc. Sagrera and Dr. Chever concluded that it was a handicap for Peru not to have an updated NCP, which led to its non-application and initial delays in the assessment process. And in the case of Sagrera, he highlighted the fact that he considered this spill to be the worst of the 21st century in Latin America, and that the entire oil industry in the region should assume this failure, which should seek to advance beyond its RETOS assessment tool (https://es.arpel.org/article/presentacion-de-retos-en-spillcon-2023-en-australia-y-en-jornadas-slom-en-brasil/) and thus ensure that the gaps it identifies are filled. At present, and partly as a result of these gaps, there is a legal process that is likely to drag on for a long time, given the amounts claimed by the Peruvian state from the two main actors involved and their representatives. A State that will also have to assume the consequences of not having been prepared, when it should have been prepared in accordance with the conventions it has ratified (OPRC 90), also assuming part of these costs. And after this, the resolution of the case will surely have a lot to do with the company’s own evaluation of its reputation and what this process has done to its image in Latin America and its aspirations for future exploitation permits that will allow it to operate globally.
The Mauritius Case in July 2020 (Bulk Carrier Wakashio), in the middle of the Covid-19 epidemic, with a vessel heading in ballast to Brazil (Tubarao), was the second case considered of interest due to its special circumstances at that time in the world, the type of fuel spilled, unprecedented at that time (VLSFO), its causes related to the deviation from the original route in search of internet signal for the crew to communicate (https://safety4sea.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/PMA-Final-Investigation-Report-Wakashio-25-July-2020_2023_07.pdf) and, most especially, its consequences. To discuss this reality, two experts and organisations that were directly involved were sought out. The first was Marine Engineer Matthew Sommerville, seconded by IMO, and probably no one more appropriate at the time (https://spillcontrol.org/2023/09/15/el-derrame-de-hidrocarburo-del-wakashiorespondiendo-a-un-derrame-de-vlsfo-covid-19-y-el-papel-de-la-sociedad-civil-y-el-apoyo-internacional-mauricio-2020/). A member of ISCO’s Executive Committee with extensive recognised experience, he played a key advisory role with the authorities during and even after the incident in advising UNEP on the new Contingency Plan for Mauritius (https://www.undp.org/mauritius-seychelles/news/undp-supports-review-national-oil-spill-contingency-plan-noscp). Mauritius’ NCP was specifically designed for risks in Port Louis, its capital and main port, when the incident occurred on the opposite side of the island. The SE of the island where the incident occurred was also a particularly environmentally sensitive location. For this reason, CEDRE also plays an important role here by sending an expert (Anne Le Roux – CEDRE Emergency Response Coordinator), who carries out direct inspections, clean-up operations on the coast, waste management, advice on response, analysis of oil samples, and especially the always difficult end-points that require consensus, which is not always easy to achieve (https://wwz.cedre.fr/en/content/download/10530/file/Bulletin%20Cedre%20n%C2%B041_EN_web.pdf). Dr. Fanny Chever, here again gave her keynote presentation and also related the remote work of CEDRE with tasks such as analysis and characterisation of oil samples, recommendations for response and being a member of the slick drift model committee. As challenges encountered in addition with mobility issues by the COVID-19, he highlighted the difficulty of getting approval for shoreline clean-up strategies, the nature of the spilled oil (VLSFO) including an introduction to the IMAROS project which is studying the effects of this new generation of low sulphur hydrocarbons (https://wwz. cedre.fr/en/Projects/2020/IMAROS-2020-2022), the difficulty of access to certain mangrove sites or rocky areas, the issues of previous rubbish not directly linked to the spill, the control of the trampling of sensitive sites, the strong pressure from the media and social media in general. For Matthew Sommerville there were also aspects of interest such as the diversity of oil spill products (new fuels, lubricants, other HNS), the escalation of the spill to higher levels and its mishaps when conditions are not ideal for it to develop (e.g. the pandemic in full swing at the time and even the storm following the grounding which worsens the situation of the ship), the need to evolve with the IMO model courses and to consider the history of the oil spills, realities and lessons learnt in each event, the question of location and access to these always difficult locations and considering the eventual remote support which, if well directed, can be really effective, the delicate issue of managing the civil society and the volunteers who in Mauritius were of great impact, the need to comment to the press and social media in a very coordinated way and knowing the added risk of the repercussions that there will be on anything said in these situations from the far corners of the globe and the need to innovate on an ongoing basis with the response teams on the ground.
As a third case, we finally chose to consider a Brazilian case at the suggestion of OceanPact, a direct actor in this case, and in some ways an emblematic case because of the way the vessel involved ended up, but also because of the succession of decisions and plans required for this operation, which lasted almost 4 months, which should be considered a unique case in Latin America and we would have to look around the world to see if there are similar cases managed with the level of consensus that was achieved in this case in Brazil. It was the VLOC Stella Banner which had an accident in February 2020, in the Ponta da Madeira area, about 100 km from San Luis, Maranhao state, when it was carrying a full load of iron ore to China. For this purpose, and as an introduction to the topic with the general situation in Brazil, MSc. Marcus Lisboa from ARPEL, technical consultant for emergency response in this Latin American organisation that brings together the main oil companies active in the region, was invited to participate. He provided a normative vision, with reference to some of the iconic international spills in the developed world (in the case of Latin America, mentioning among them the case of Ixtoc-I in June 1979 and the Atlantic Empress in July of the same year) and specially made a more detailed review of the cases of Brazilian spills since the last quarter of the 20th century. From the tragic blowup of the Basin de Campos (PCE-1 in August 1984), to the pipeline spill in the Guanabara Bay with 1,300 m3 of bunker spilled (January 2000), the river spill in the Iguazu River also due to the rupture of a pipeline with about 4,000 m3 of crude oil and a huge environmental impact (July 2000), the explosion of the P-36 platform in the Roncador field with deaths and 1,300 m3 of diesel spilled (March 2001), the tanker Norma grounded near the port of Paranagua and with tens of thousands of gallons of naphtha spilled (October 2000), the explosion of the chemical tanker Vicuña (November 2004) with a spill of 2,000 m3 of bunker and also HNS with methanol, the spill of the Campo Frade well with approximately 500 m3 of crude (November 2011) and which would be the impetus for the 2013 NCP, the spill of the Osorio Terminal monobuoy on the Tramandaí beach with about 35 m3 of crude (January 2012) and finally the iconic spill of unknown origin on the NE coast of Brazil with about 3,600 km of coastline affected and which generated the collection of 6,000 tons of contaminated waste (August 2019). Lisboa also referred to the different types of contingency plans existing in Brazil (PEI, PA and PNC), as well as the Brazilian laws inherent to the subject, ranging from the oil law of 2000, to the CONAMA Resolutions of 2015 and 2017, and the creation of the PNC in 2013. He pointed out the new challenges posed by projects in the Brazilian Equatorial Margin and even on the border with the Guyanas, aspects of Petrobras’ Environmental Defence Centres and Transpetro’s Emergency Response Centres, ending with general operational considerations, including the DWH case, and summarising what he considers to be the low frequency of incidents in Brazil, although with significant impacts, as well as the need for Brazil to ratify several international IMO conventions to which it is not yet a party.
With such a thorough introduction, the stage was set for Engineer Adriano Ranieri, Chief Executive Officer of EnvironPact, who developed the Stella Banner case in detail (February 2020). Without referring to the causes, which are very detailed in the Flag State report (https://www.register-iri.com/wp-content/uploads/Republic-of-the-Marshall-Islands-Office-of-the-Maritime-Administrator-STELLAR-BANNER-Casualty-Investigation-Report.pdf), he developed the stages of the response which would include response plans with mathematical models for each phase, salvage plan and finally the action plan for its sinking. With a variety of hydrocarbon products (almost 4,000 m3 of HFO, about 90 m3 of LSMGO and 136 m3 of lubricating oils), it was fully loaded with about 300,000 tonnes of iron ore. Ranieri focused his presentation on the formation and work of the Unified Command, which is integrated one week after the incident and applies the ICS methodology. During one month (March-April 2020) debunkering actions are carried out, removing the main fuel on board, proceeding after (April-May 2020) to the successful stowage of the iron ore cargo. In June 2020, after being refloated and towed to ultra-deep waters more than 100 km off the NE coast of Brazil, the vessel was sunk as it was considered unseaworthy and unsafe (https://www.offshore-energy.biz/stellar-banner-scuttled-after-being-declared-unseaworthy/), a decision taken by consensus by the authorities in charge of the incident. The stages of the response were described in chronological order, showing the rationality with which this case was handled by the Unified Command, which had fully documented procedures. The whole process also included an Action Plan to protect the fauna in the event of an oil spill, which in the end did not occur. The result of these almost 50 days of monitoring made it possible to determine that not a single species was affected by the entire operation. Accustomed to the realities of the other Latin America, we are surprised to see these results. Among the not insignificant achievements in this incident in Brazil, it should be noted that only very minor traces of oil were observed in the sea and the exercise of collective decision making in that Unified Command. In conclusion, Raineri suggested the need to train authorities at different levels in ICS, integrating industry in the exercises to be carried out, as well as a very interesting and wise observation on the possibility of adapting an ICS model from this case for Brazil.
At the end of the case presentations, OceanPact had the brilliant idea of inviting IBAMA, in the best USCG-EPA style, with a presentation by the Environmental Analyst, Biologist and Master in Ecology Cintia Levita Lins do Bofim, which dealt with the topic “The Pre-Operational Assessment Instrument as a Support for the Environmental Licensing of Offshore Oil and gas Activities”. The topic is very interesting, because it brings down in a very concrete and practical way the processes of verification by the authorities of the response to risk scenarios in offshore scenarios, which implies finally bringing down to earth the always very theoretical assessments of tools such as ARPEL’s RETOS. These face-to-face evaluations of in situ deployment exercises are specifically designed for what in Brazil are called “New Frontiers”, which is none other than all the new fields that do not have regular Offshore E&P activity (read all in Brazil except Campos, Santos and Espírito Santo), also for areas of high sensitivity, and when it is understood that there are very short mobilisation times to the risk scenario. They are already 17 years old (the first one was carried out in 2006 and up to the current year there have been about 15 APOs), although IBAMA’s provision regularised them with the APO (Pre-Operational Assessment) Directive N°03/2103. His presentation, followed with great attention by the attendees from the Brazilian oil industry, culminated with concrete images of all these deployment exercises in the cases carried out.
With this presentation, the case studies were completed and all the Speakers were called together for a Round Table with Lessons Learned, which was moderated by none other than Flavio P. de Andrade who made his final reflections and asked, very well we are standing here, how we can improve our responses and prevention from these experiences we have lived. Each Speaker had his timing for the Conclusions, which have been outlined in advance in each case and will be available on the OceanPact website. In the final part of the event, Matthew Sommerville, on behalf of the ISCO Executive Committee, with emotional words (they have known Flavio P. de Andrade since 2004 with the Vicuña case in Paranagua) imposed him as ISCO Ambassador in Brazil, the Portuguese-speaking Latin America, and what a well-deserved and well-earned role for someone who has shared ISCO’s objectives and principles for more than 20 years. The event came to an end with the presentation of gifts by ISCO to the Speakers and OceanPact referents such as Erik Cunha and, without a doubt, other members of the OceanPact team have also deserved it for all their contribution to making the event happen.
As ISCO’s Representative for the other Latin America (the Spanish-speaking one), we are left with the feeling of having been in another world in relation to our theme of Prevention and Response. Listening to how the Stella Banner case was managed and the consensual decisions that followed in an incredibly short time, makes us think that today this is almost impossible to replicate in this other Latin America. In the same way, IBAMA’s management of the APOs will serve as a model for other parts of our continent, and show that it is possible to do it and to demand it of the oil companies, and that they should not succeed in diluting these attempts through pressure and political manoeuvring that lacks transparency. On the cases of Peru and Mauritius, there is more than enough information in public form and it only remains for those responsible in our continent to become aware and use it for their own benefit, just as they do in the developed world.
The final question then remains as to whether there are possibilities for the other Latin America to accelerate the processes of updating their Contingency Plans, assuming the risk scenarios they have, managing to form Unified Commands and using the ICS or even the IMT (Incident Management Team), improving the NEBA/SIMA assessment processes, finally managing to regularise the OSROs and thus obtaining the resources in equipment and materials, as well as specialised personnel. And the response must be optimistic. Firstly because the need is there and the processes are becoming more and more transparent, then because there are new generations arriving and they have other heads in the environmental field that ours never had, finally because the organisations themselves (read ARPEL) are coming out of their comfort zone and understanding that the best way to protect their associates is to improve the assessment tools and they are in this process. Let us end this article with a positive note that we experienced in that other Latin America, specifically in Mexico (Tampico, Tamaulipas) a few days ago, in what was the best Unified Command and ICS exercise we have seen in recent years in the region (https://spillcontrol.org/2023/10/18/liderazgo-y-transparencia-isco-observador-de-actividades-con-el-plan-nacional-de-contingencias-de-mexico-simulacro-de-liberacion-de-gas-natural-y-derrame-de-hidrocarburos-solseg-energia-rn/). ISCO disseminates these practices on its platforms and this joint seminar with OceanPact had no other objective than that.
We cannot end this article without mentioning the quality of the organisation that OceanPact had in this Seminar, perhaps a Brazilian trademark, but which surely also differentiates this organisation from its peers worldwide. And believe it or not, included in the materials given to each of the participants was the book “Fundamentals of Oil Spill Clean-up”, translated into Portuguese, authored by Merv Fingas, our ISCO Executive Committee member and ISCO Council Representative for Canada. So ISCO’s and our personal recognition goes especially to Anna Gomide, Paulo Fonseca and all the OceanPact administrative and IT team that made this successful event possible and that sets the bar very high for what is to come. Mr. Flavio P. de Andrade, CEO of OceanPact and ISCO Ambassador in Brazil: Mission Accomplished…!!!
Official photos of the event can be viewed here: