Coast Guard Responds to Oil Spill in Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Coast Guard pollution response crews established a Unified Command Thursday with fellow federal and local agencies after a series of mysterious oil bands were located in the water, approximately one nautical mile from the coastline of Punta Ventana, Guanica to Guayanilla Bay in the southern coast of Puerto Rico.

Pollution investigators are looking into the extent and origin of the contamination. The shoreline has been divided into five geographic zones and Zone I, which includes Guanica Bay, presents the highest amount of contamination. Pollution response teams are on site and have initiated recovery operations of the product. Contamination offshore is moving with the winds and currents from east to west and responders continue to monitor the spill’s trajectory. So far, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service personnel on-scene has not received reports of oiled birds or fish being killed as a result of the contamination.

“It is extremely important that people do not go into the water throughout the contaminated area from Punta Ventana to Guayanilla Bay until environmental experts determine that it is safe to do so,” said Javier Velez Arocho, Secretary, Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources.

“We’ve deployed five shoreline assessment teams to determine the nature and extent of the contamination,” said Capt. James E. Tunstall, Federal On Scene Coordinator. “Every effort will be made to conduct safe and effective recovery operations. We will continue to take the necessary actions to protect the sensitive areas at risk and the safety of responders recovering product from the affected areas.”

Coast Guard Sector San Juan controllers received initial notification at approximately 8:45 a.m. yesterday from Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid Action F.U.R.A., identifying the bands of product in the water. Coast Guard Pollution Investigators from Regional Inspection Office, Ponce arrived to the scene with the assistance of a F.U.R.A. marine unit and took samples of the unknown product. The crew of a Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen HH-65 Dolphin helicopter conducted three flights and located four to five bands of product across a five mile area offshore.

The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund has been opened to initiate containment and recovery operations of the material. An investigation is underway to identify a potentially responsible party that could be liable for up to three times the cost of cleanup.

The federal on-scene coordinator and representatives from U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the National Response Corporation, Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Quality Board, Emergency Management Agency, Guanica’s Emergency Management personnel and F.U.R.A. to coordinate a unified response during this environmental emergency, conduct safe and effective operations and protect the sensitive areas at risk.

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