UPDATED: Galapaface I: Grounded Ship Unloading Progresses–Legal Action Pending

The Galapaface I grounded off San Cristóbal Island, Galápagos

Galápagos National Park

The Galapaface I grounded off San Cristóbal Island, Galápagos

UPDATE 5:45 P.M. MAY 21: Wednesday afternoon, the Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio reported on its website that environmental authorities have started legal action to hold the owners of the Galapaface I responsible for any pollution or environmental problems caused by the grounding May 9 of the cargo ship on the rocks off San Cristóbal Island.

El Comercio also reported that an Ecuadorian C-130 transport plane arrived on San Cristóbal Wednesday with equipment from the mainland that will be used in an effort to patch the hull of the ship, punctured by the rocks.  Two tugboats are being used to stabilize the grounded vessel as it awaits repairs.

Salvage workers reported good news Monday.  As they began unloading 46 tanks of lubricating oil, they found that all of the containers were in good condition and that they were not leaking.  In a news release, the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment and the Galápagos National Park said they are monitoring the salvage operation closely and doing everything possible to prevent contamination of the waters off San Cristóbal.

When the ship ran aground, it had already unloaded cargo destined for San Cristóbal and was headed to Santa Cruz, about 60 miles to the west. In an attempt to reclaim their property, some Santa Cruz merchants journeyed to San Cristóbal only to find that many of the goods had been damaged by sea water that leaked into the ship’s hold.

Cargo unloaded from the grounded Galapaface I on the dock at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno

Gina Andrade / Radio Encantada

Cargo unloaded from the grounded Galapaface I on the dock at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno

Officials from the Galápagos National Park and the Galápagos Biosafety Agency were unloading perishable cargo from the Galapaface I, much of it “in a state of decomposition” according to the government.  Gina Andrade of Radio Encantada reported that the decomposed cargo will be incinerated.

“I wonder if anybody will be held responsible because so much has been lost,” one woman posted on Facebook, asking who will reimburse those who had cargo aboard ship.  “Did it sink or did thieves take it?” she wondered.

A diver checks out marine life on the sea floor near where the Galapaface I ran aground

Galápagos National Park

A diver checks out marine life on the sea floor near where the Galapaface I ran aground

Three divers from the Galápagos National Park, the Ministry of Environment and the Charles Darwin Research Station are conducting ecological monitoring of the seafloor near where the Galapaface I is grounded.  Technicians will try to determine if marine life has been disturbed.

There remains some criticism on social media about the perceived slowness of the official response to the mishap.

“They should have declared a state of emergency immediately,” one man wrote on Facebook,  “Because once vessels hit the rocks, they are destroyed rapidly.”

A woman complained: “What  incompetence of the responsible authorities. Now they throw out  the damaged  cargo  which could have been avoided if they had allowed unloading it the  second or third day.”

The government has estimated that it could take almost a month to move the Galapaface I off the rocks at San Cristóbal and that the salvage operation will cost between $5 and $6 million.

Correction: An earlier version of this story had Santa Cruz Island 60 miles to the east of San Cristóbal, not west.  We apologize for the error and we always try to navigate properly.