Ten days after the cargo ship Galapaface I ran aground on the rocks off Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal Island in the Galápagos, the ship remains stranded and authorities estimate that it will take up to a month’s time to move it safely at an estimated cost of between $5 and $6 million.
In a press release, the government said that a 15-person crew from a salvage company is working to refloat the ship while technicians from the Galápagos National Park and the Darwin Research Station are monitoring water samples to make sure that no toxic substances are leaking from the Galapaface I.
According to the Environment Ministry, there has been nothing detected that would harm the sea lions that inhabit the area. A park official said it appears one of the ship’s holds is flooded and that some of the cargo destined for the islands has probably been damaged or destroyed.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Galápagos National Park Director Arturo Izurieta spoke of the difficulties confronting the salvage crew, pointing out that the Galapaface I “is a very large ship, about 2,300 gross tons.”
On Thursday, May 15, the government of Ecuador declared a state of emergency to cut through red tape and speed the release of money necessary to remove the ship from the rocks without causing environmental damage.
As a further precaution, the Galapagos National Park and the Ministry of Environment closed two popular tourist spots at Punta Carola and Cerro Tijeretas. The Galapaface I is grounded about 500 feet (150 meters) off Punta Carola. A government press release said the areas would remain closed as long as the state of emergency remains in effect.
Punta Carola is renowned as the place Charles Darwin first stepped ashore on the Galápagos Islands in 1835, beginning the research that would later inspire his theory of evolution by natural selection.
Some Galapagueños took to social media to complain about the government response and the need to prevent such incidents in the future. One Facebook user who criticized the efforts as “impotent” raised the question: “Given the frequency of freighters arriving to Galápagos on a monthly basis should we have pilots to guide them in and out of harbors?”
Another person wrote: “In Galápagos, we don’t have a contingency plan or the appropriate means. The problem is not having the equipment such as pumps, tugboats, floats, etc.”
The President of the Galápagos Provincial Governing Council, Maria Isabel Salvador, has sought to reassure citizens that “everything is under control in relation to environmental risks.” Speaking in an interview on GAMA-TV, she said that “all efforts are being made” to dislodge the Galapaface I. “The most important decision,” she said, “was to pump out 19,000 gallons of fuel” that the ship was carrying.
For many on San Cristóbal, the incident revives unhappy memories of the Jessica, an oil tanker that ran aground in 2001 in about the same location, appropriately dubbed “Wreck Bay” or “Shipwreck Bay.” The Jessica spilled 175,000 gallons of diesel and fuel oil. It was ranked as one of the worst environmental disasters in Galápagos history.