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San Cristobal, Galapagos




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Cargo Boat Runs Aground off San Cristobal

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On May 9th, a cargo boat, Galapaface 1,  ran aground just offshore, at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal Galapagos. It is now the centre of a major environmental containment and cleanup effort, directed by the local authorities, with salvage expertise, personnel and equipment from several countries.

Galapaface 1 is one of several reefers (refrigerated cargo ships) which cross regularly from Guayaquil to Galapagos bringing supplies to the residents of the Galapagos Islands. At San Cristobal, these boats anchor about 500m offshore in the appropriately named “Shipwreck Bay” at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Here they are unloaded using a mixture of lighters and a barge for larger items. Although long on the San Cristobal residents’ wishlist, there is no deepwater pier for unloading ships.

While described, in some circles, as “a disaster waiting to happen”, for the residents of Galapagos, the disaster is already unfolding. We have lost a major component of the supply chain that brings food, household goods, building materials and other supplies that are essential to normal life here. The owners of Galapaface 1 have lost not only the vessel itself, and the business it generated, but also face legal action from the environmental authorities.

At the same time, two of San Cristobal’s most popular beaches have been closed while efforts to prevent contamination during flotation and removal of the vessel are under way.

The need for vigilance over the fragile ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands cannot be overstated. However, perhaps even as a result, few places stir as much histrionics and misinformation: some opportunistic and some simply ill-informed. Some examples are provided at the bottom of the page <click here>.

With the ship’s fuel tanks now emptied, the immediate environmental threat has been averted and the mainstream media have moved on. Consequently, objective and up to date information is hard to come by. This page is intended to provide a reference to our current and future guests who, we fully expect, will be concerned about what happened, what is being done and what this means to the Galapagos and their plans to visit us here.

Basic Timeline of Events:

Updated 29 May, ‘14

Galapaface 1 was scheduled to arrive at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal, from Guayaquiil, on or about May 5th. After a couple of days unloading it would then sail on to Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz).

On May 6th, Galapaface 1 arrived at San Cristobal and that portion of the cargo destined for San Cristobal was unloaded. While still at its mooring, the boat was seen to be listing noticeably.

Daylight on the morning of May 9th, found the boat stranded on the rocks off Punta Carola. The captain is reported to have placed a distress call early that morning to report water in the engine room. A subsequent distress call reported his grounding on the rocks off Punta Carola.

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The Galapagos National Park inspects the stricken ship...

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We have seen no official statement as to how the boat came to be on the rocks at Punta Carola. The matter is “under investigation”.

By May 11th, an oil containment boom was in place around the stricken vessel and the fuel tanks were pumped out as a precaution against future spillage. Authorities later reported some 17,000 to 19,000 gallons of fuel had been removed. This has led some bright sparks to conclude that Galapaface 1 must be an oil freighter!

On May 15th, the Emergency Operations Committee (COE) of San Cristobal called for the declaration of a State of Emergency. Two tug-boats have been dispatched from Guayaquil (on the continent) to move the boat whenever that becomes feasible. Meanwhile unloading of the ship’s cargo continues.

May 22nd - At this time, the authorities have determined that the boat will be re-floated and unless a buyer is found it will be towed 60 miles offshore (the Marine Reserve extends 40 miles from shore) and sunk in deep water where it will eventually become a fish habitat. Personnel and equipment are being flown in daily from several countries and the entire operation is expected to cost upwards of $6 million.

So far, there is no indication of pollution at the site but the lower decks are flooded and the contents now comprise what the Park Director has described as a “contaminant soup”.

May 29th - The painstaking process of removing cargo from the flooded bowels of Galapaface 1 continues. COE are predicting (and we are all hoping) that it will be off the rocks and en-route to its final resting place in 2 to 3 weeks. Galapaface 1 has been on the rocks for 20 days now and, although there is little outward sign of urgency, completion of the salvage really is a race against the clock because the waters off Carola have been exceptionally calm but that could change at any time - See comments below (Big Surf at Carola).

July 1st - Nothing much happening out at the boat - Waiting for sponsons (re-flotation tanks) to be fabricated and delivered from the mainland. Galapaface 1 has been on the rocks for 60 days.

July 15th - The sponsons are attached and finally, with the early morning high tide, the hulk is lifted clear of the rocks. By daybreak Galapaface 1 is out of sight, on her final voyage.

Big Surf at Carola: The islands experience periodic swells (aguajes) which can result in powerful, even destructive, waves and the quality and strength of its waves have made Punta Carola one of the world’s top surf spots, with 3m to 4m waves not uncommon, particularly if we experience a strong swell from the NW to SW. Throughout the salvage period we enjoyed excellent surfing, but fortunately for the salvage operation, on the more southerly shores: Tongo Reef, Loberia and Puerto Chino.

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Journalism at its Worst (or just laziest?).....

Unfortunately, whether for circulation or for fundraising, the Galapagos Islands generate more than their fair share of alarmist headlines. Coverage of the Galapaface 1 accident is typical. Here are just a few corrections to the myths being generated around this incident.

This is not an oil-freighter.

    19,000 gallons may seem like a lot of fuel to some but its simply the fuel the boat needs for its own propulsion - It is not cargo.

The boat was not carrying “1,000 tonnes of chemical pollutants”.

    Looks like we can thank the Wall Street Journal (no less) for this one. Whereas Galapaface 1 carried only the regular load of groceries, household supplies and building materials, the WSJ referred to: “..a freighter carrying chemicals and dangerous pollutants”. And later: “the roughly 1,000 tonnes of pollutants the ship was carrying”. So now, lesser lights are quoting WSJ in asserting that Galapaface 1 was carrying: “over 1,000 tonnnes of dangerous chemical pollutants”!

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There are no condors in San Cristobal

    NBCNews.com reports that Ecuador’s Environment Minister has tweeted: “a picture of a condor that had been rescued from the affected water.”. What this journalist had seen was two adjacent, but completely unrelated tweets by the Minister. If there was a condor in Galapagos that would be much bigger news than any shipwreck!

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