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By Laura Madden, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Japanese company Modec, which provides services to the oil industry, was fined R$16.6 million last week for an oil spill in Ilha Grande Bay along the southern coast of the state of Rio de Janiero. The company’s platform-ship, Cidade de São Paulo, was heading to the Brasfels shipyard on Friday, December 16th, when it leaked fuel oil into the bay near the Angra dos Reis luxury resort area.

Modec's platform-ship, Cidade de São Paulo was fined R$16.6 billion for an oil spill in Ilha Grande Bay, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Modec's platform-ship, Cidade de São Paulo was fined R$16.6 million for an oil spill in Ilha Grande Bay, image recreation.

According to Agência Brasil, Modec’s initial estimates were that between 1,000 and 2,000 liters of oil had been leaked into the bay, but no more than 4,400 liters. After flying over the affected area by helicopter on December 18th, state environmental authorities put the estimate much higher.

“Ten thousand liters [of oil were dumped] into Ilha Grande Bay,” said Carlos Minc, Secretary of State for the environment in the state of Rio de Janeiro, in a statement. “When I did the flyover yesterday [December 18th], the area that was most affected was the area around Ilha dos Porcos. The oil reached Praia do Bonfim, in Angra dos Reis, and a little bit in Saco do Mamanguá, in Paraty.”

The Polícia Federal opened an investigation, as well as the Brazilian Navy. In a statement on their website, the Polícia Federal said the objective of the investigation is to determine whether the oil spill was due to human or machine error. Federal agents and naval officers spent Tuesday inspecting the ship.

After the December 20th inspection, Rio de Janeiro’s Port Authority ruled that Modec violated Brazilian and international rules regarding the exchange of ballast water — a practice which should normally be done on the high seas – as well as the removal of ballast while docked at Brasfels. Ballast water is taken onboard a ship from a port or other location and stored in tanks to add weight and help maintain the ship’s stability.

File photo of then-minister of the environment, Carlos Minc, Brazil News.
File photo of then-minister of the environment, Carlos Minc, taken in 2009, photo by Valter Campanato/ABr.

The Polícia Federal heard statements on Thursday from the ship’s commander, other crew members and people from Hidroclean, the company hired by Modec to handle the clean-up.

Angra dos Reis and the surrounding area have recently seen an increase of nautical traffic due to the opening of new ports, a shipyard and new Petrobrás terminal.

The head of Ibama’s Angra dos Reis office, José Augusto Morelli, told Agência Estado that the vast majority of oil spills in Ilha Grande bay do not get reported. The office in Angra has five employees, including Morelli, and one motorboat. None of the five have any professional experience with the oil industry.

“The structural problems are very serious,” said José Augusto Morelli, the head of Ibama’s Angra dos Reis office, in a statement to Agência Estado. “The resources are minimal. [Our motorboat] is old, we can not afford the necessary repairs.”

Secretary Minc and other authorities will sign into effect an area of environmental protection (área de proteção ambiental, or APA). “[This] will establish standards, planning and exclusion zones so that ships can not anchor within 1 km of Ilha Grande, nor in the areas of turtle reproduction. [It will also help to protect] the grey dolphins [in our waters], because if they are all killed, we’ll have to take them off our flag.”

This comes just a month after Chevron was banned from offshore drilling in Brazilian waters because of an oil leak in the Campos Basin discovered November 8th. The incident resulted in an estimated 3,000 barrels of oil leaked into ocean 230 miles (370km) off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, resulting in at least R$100 million in fines.

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