Brazil's Petrobras Fined the Maximum for Giant Oil Spill

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, January 26, 2000 (ENS) - Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso has ordered the government oil company, Petrobras, to pay the maximum possible fine for an enormous oil spill last week in Rio's Guanabara Bay.

The maximum fine is the Brazilian equivalent of US$28.66 million, the largest amount allowable under the country's environment crimes law passed last year.

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Oil soaked beach at Guanabara Bay (All photos courtesy Greepeace Brazil/Goifman)
Environment Minister Jose Sarney Filho said Tuesday the government intends to charge Petrobras with four counts of breaking Brazil's new stricter environmental law.

The spill occurred January 18 at the company's Duque de Caxias refinery (Reduc) in Rio de Janeiro's Guanabara Bay when a pipeline broke and 1,290 tonnes of oil gushed into the bay for seven hours before it was stopped.

Petrobras president Henri Phillipe Reichstul said the company will not protest the fine and will pay the amount to Brazil's Federal Treasury. The Environment Ministry said the funds will be used for clean up work at Guanabara Bay.

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Cleanup workers battle sticky oil.
A volunteer Sea Shepherd Conservation Society emergency wildlife rescue team is in Rio. "This is the worst catastrophe ever to hit Baia de Guanabara," said Sea Shepherd Brazil president Daniel Vairo. "Hundreds of thousands of birds, fish, and mammals in the area are already dead. The APA de Guapimirim nature preserve has been contaminated."

The spill fouled 17 rivers and estuaries and 12 square miles of coastline, contaminated protected mangrove swamps and killed seabirds, fish and crustaceans.

Right after the spill animal rescue was not part of Petrobras' clean-up plan, but now Greenpeace Brazil has obtained a commitment from Petrobras to help the animals and birds oiled by the spill.

Greenpeace Brazil's executive director Roberto Kishinami told Business News Americas that Petrobras' president Reichstul has promised to acquire the necessary equipment and personnel to rescue animals in the affected area.

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Animal rescue worker tends oiled bird. (Photo courtesy )
Petrobras also contracted the services of economist Abraham Joshimek who will oversee the financial compensation of communities affected by the spill, Kishinami added.

"Fishermen had no type of assistance and had no idea how they would survive the next few months and years," he said. Kishinami estimates that cleanup could take up to 20 years. Petrobras has said it would take at least 30 days to clean up the mess.

Petrobras promised to install an industrial contamination monitoring system in Guanabara Bay, Kishinami said.

The company is also studying the removal of several dangerous production processes from the refinery and transferring them to the Duque de Caxias chemical-gas facility where stricter environment standards exist.

{Business News Americas contributed to this report.}