Since September 2, oil has contaminated 494 coastal locations in 10 Brazilian states. The oil spill has washed up on beaches spanning over 1,300 miles and is considered the worst environmental disaster on the Brazilian coastline.
Press and government officials said an analysis by Brazilian Oil Company Petrobras confirmed the crude oil mix was not of Brazilian origin. “The oil heading our way is likely from Venezuela, just as Petrobras’ research suggests. It seems it’s a type of oil that comes from a foreign ship navigating close to Brazil’s coast,” said Ricardo Salles, Brazilian Minister of the Environment, at a hearing before the Environment and Sustainable Development Commission of the House of Representatives, on October 9.
The statement prompted a reaction from the Nicolás Maduro regime, which denied Venezuela’s responsibility for the oil spill. “Petróleos de Venezuela [PDVSA] categorically rejects the statements of Brazilian Minister of the Environment Ricardo Salles accusing Venezuela of being responsible for the crude oil that has been contaminating Brazil’s northeastern beaches since early September,” said a joint press release from the Ministry of Oil and state-owned company PDVSA.
According to the document, neither customers nor subsidiaries of the company have reported a possible leak or damage near the Brazilian coast. It further claims that their facilities lie about 4,130 miles from the Brazilian area where the spills appeared.
“The indication that the oil is of Venezuelan origin is based on Petrobras’ technical laboratory analysis. The hypothesis is that the oil could have been leaked from ships navigating along Brazil’s coast, and not necessarily from the Venezuelan dictatorship’s fields,” countered Salles in an interview with Brazilian daily Folha de São Paulo.
Brazil’s government is investigating the cause and possible origins of the oil spill. The Ministry of the Environment is leading a research taskforce that includes the Ministry of Defense, Petrobras, and several other federal and state agencies.
Petrobras President Roberto Castello Branco said three hypotheses are being considered: a sunken ship, an accident during the transfer of oil between ships, or a criminal spill.
The investigation recommended screening merchant traffic information along the northeastern coast. As such, the Brazilian Navy (MB, in Portuguese) notified 30 tankers of 10 different flags to provide clarifications. “MB is in contact with the competent authorities of flag countries, with the International Maritime Organization, and the Federal Police to clarify the facts,” MB said.
As of November 7, MB reported that nearly 4,300 tons of oil and associated waste had been picked up from northeastern beaches. Hundreds of volunteers and civil organizations took part in the cleanup effort. Navy teams are also on the field, with about 1,600 service members, five ships, an aircraft, as well as vessels and vehicles from port captaincies, police delegations, and agencies based along the coastline.