Note from BW of Brazil: It’s been almost two months since I first received a report and images of an oil spill that had happened somewhere in Brazil’s northeast. To be honest, at the time, had no idea the disaster that it was and would become. When the images of the oil sitting on the water and the animals covered in oil started pouring in, I immediately thought of the 2010 oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Then the facts and the unknowns started to come. This is what we know so far.
Oil, up to now, still of an unknown source has washed up and down the coastline of Brazil’s northeast in a 2,000 kilometer stretch, affecting nine states – Alagoas, Bahia, Ceará, Maranhão, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Piauí, Rio Grande do Norte and Sergipe. The disaster has affected some of the country’s most beautiful beaches, 150 having been contaminated thus far, and provoking worries with the upcoming tourist season.
Brazil’s state owned oil company, Petrobras, tested oil and said it’s not the kind produced in Brazil but that it does have characteristics of oil found in neighboring Venezuela. Venezuelan officials, in turn, deny the oil originating in their country. Although the source remains a mystery, there have been a number of theories put forward. Here are some of the more interesting theories.
- The product leaked when it was transferred from one vessel to another,
- A ship carrying the oil sank without leaving records (which raises the possibility that it was a “ghost ship”, that is, an irregular, unregistered ship that sails with the signals off so as not to be identified).
- The possibility of an oil spill is also not ruled out.
- A German ship sunk of the coast of Brazil during World War II
- Rouge oil tankers in the Atlantic Ocean
Clean up efforts have been underway for weeks with residentes, police, navy and several agencies being involved in the process. States such as Alagoas and Sergipe, which declared a state of emergency, have been hit particularly hard. Since clear up efforts began, a total of over 600 tons of thick sludge have been collected. Marine life has been also been devastated with numerous animals being seen covered in oil or washing ashore already dead.
Interviewed on the subject, Leonlene Aguiar, of the Institute of Environmental Defense of the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte said the following;
In relation to wildlife, we’ve seen some deaths, but in relation to those that survive, some die later while others don’t. Others manage to reintegrate with nature after treatment. In some states there are teams helping in the treatment and the recovery of these animals.
A total of 42 coastal cities have already been affected with increased concern due to the season for baby turtle hatchlings and tourism, that local economies depend on heavily. The disaster is already reeking havoc on Bahia’s fishing families and industry, which will be discussed below.
Of such disasterous proportions, the issue can no longer be defined as simply a Brazilian problem.
For the military officials, there is convincing evidence that the oil has begun to spread into international waters, making it a problem of international proportions. According too one official, if the problem in fact originated in a maritime area beyond Brazilian territorial domain, “the issue transcends the jurisdiction of the Brazilian State”.
Sometimes, in cases such as these, pictures are, as they say, worth a thousand words, which we see not only in the case of the affected animals, but also in the case of a 13-year old boy whose image, drenched in oil, viralized online.
Everton Miguel dos Anjos, 13, the young man who entered the sea to remove the oil that spread along the beach and was photographed covered with black and viscous material. On Monday, October 21, a holiday in the state of Pernambuco, the young man didn’t hesitate before diving into the remove to remove the oil that had been spreading along the beach coast.
“I was helping my mother at the bar. When I saw the people trying to get that dirt out of the sea, and the people on the beach were scared, I only thought about my mother’s work,” said Everton. “We depend on the bar to live. If the beach stayed that way, no one would come to my mother’s bar. “
Everton’s family is not the only one that will be deeply affected by this disaster.
The oil slicks may restrict the work of up to 144,000 fishermen and shellfish gatherers from the nine states in the region, according to information from the Folha de São Paulo newspaper.
According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, this is the number of registered fishing professionals whose coast was affected by oil. The Ministry now considers that upward of 77 cities have been affected.
On Wednesday, October 16, Minister Tereza Cristina said that the government, which has not yet given an effective response to the situation, will anticipate in one month the payment of insurance protection for fishing communities in the Northeast that have been affected by oil slicks.
In the city of Conde, Bahia, 181 km from Salvador, fishermen reported that, two weeks ago, they have not been going to sea because of the possibility of fish contamination.
“Even if it is good for consumption, people will not want to buy the fish from our region,” said the president of Conde’s fishing colony, Genival Batista.
According to information from Bahia Pesca, of Bahia’s state government, there are 13,375 fishermen and shellfish farmers in eight cities that were directly affected by oil slicks in the region. According to the agency, actions to repair the damage of families are being discussed.
An assessment of fish and shellfish will also be made by the agency via analysis of the Sanitary and Environmental Surveillance to verify if it can be consumed or if it is contaminated.
Fishermen occupy Ibama in Bahia and denounce environmental racism of the government
The solution to stifling the crisis has been to spread fake news, polemicize with NGOs, blame political enemies and militarize the problem
Five weeks of the greatest ecological tragedy that has struck the Brazilian for coast over 2500 kilometers, and the unequal effects on the population are increasingly exposed, who are suffering the most direct effects and who are being increasingly neglected by public support at this time. The omission is deliberate: Ricardo Salles, Minister of the Environment, took 41 days to put a National Contingency Plan in motion. Despite the public calamity, a state of emergency has not yet been declared. Bolsonaro went to Japan, and yesterday, Salles attended a meeting with the bourgeoisie of the state of Rio Grande do Sul at a Country Club in Porto Alegre.
The solution to stifling the crisis has been to spread fake news, polemicize with NGOs, blame political enemies and militarize the problem by shifting responsibility to centralize actions and restricting society’s access to information. This neglect, the fishermen and fisherwomen of Bahia denounce, reflects on the structuring effects of environmental racism on the way this government acts. Ultimately, those who will suffer most from this terrible contamination will be black families that depend on marine life to survive.
“It’s environmental racism when all the trash is thrown into the territories of black men and black women. It is our bodies that are in the mangroves and muds that are being contaminated” says Eliete Paraguassu, a quilombola, seafood gatherer and fisherwoman from Salvador’s Ilha de Maré. In addition to violence against animals themselves and the ecosystem, oil contamination of shellfish and fish causes a second, social tragedy. This is because they are part of the life of fishing communities, which will continue to feed on fish and shellfish contaminated by both cultural and economic issues, as they are poor and have no other means of subsistence. “And these communities will starve from this disaster,” Paraguassu denounces.
“We want to know what this crime was. Caused by who? What is there to do to stop it? Where is it coming from?” asks Marizelha Lopes, quilombola, fisherwoman and seafood gatherer from Ilha de Maré. The fishing communities are afflicted, and without any response from the government especially to their rights and support for this moment of crisis. With contaminated fish, Lopes recalls, there will be no market to sell, municipalities are no longer buying fish, which will further impoverish already poor populations. On the other hand, these same communities will have no choice but to feed on the same contaminated and market-rejected fish, as there is no emergency food aid, financial support and other assistance needed to deal with the ongoing tragedy.
Stains arrived on Ilha de Itaparica and Morro de São Paulo, which makes up the region of Baía de Todos os Santos, while inside the bay there have been contaminated dead fish on Ilha de Maré and an oil-stained turtles. It has not yet reached the bay’s mangroves, but if it has been difficult to clear the corals and rocks, the mangrove will be even worse.
The responsibility for implementing the National Contingency Plan rested with the Brazilian Navy, centered in Salvador. But with a history of naval violence against quilombola communities in Bahia, the movement decided to occupy Ibama headquarters on Tuesday, 22, to make a series of questions to the federal government and demands for the rights of communities directly hit by the spill.
About 300 people were received by Ibama’s superintendent in Salvador, Rodrigo Alves, who forwarded letters to the bodies participating in the joint action of the crisis for a meeting. A lawyer who worked in the construction industry, he told me that he never had any experience in the environmental field, but “was clean” and took office in July, after four months of negotiations. “It felt like a business process, I applied in February,” he said.
After I introduced myself as a UFBA professor and CartaCapital columnist, Alves said of the magazine that “he knows the line, but we have to have freedom of thought” and agreed to talk to me. He was motivated, he said, that the Navy “has supported, that no resource that we have asked for her has been withheld”.
Echoing the strategy of politicizing the disaster, Alves said that “it’s not time to politicize, it’s time to unite”, that the relationship with the state government “is very cool”, that communities came to Ibama because it has “credibility”. ” But then he questioned why they did not make demands of the Bahia Pesca and Inema, the state environmental institute. Unaware of the structure of the organ, he said that “over the past 15 years Ibama has lost a lot of funding and staffing capacity” – which makes no sense.
Below, the letter written by the quilombola communities and fishing associations of Bahia, whose purpose is to disseminate to society in the face of the seriousness of the situation, and the social tragedy that the Bolsonaro government is promoting in the face of this ecological tragedy. Until the early afternoon of Tuesday, 22, they were only received by the Public Defender’s Office, the Ministry of Agriculture and Supply, the State Secretariat of Agriculture and Ibama.
Open letter in defense of life, fishers and artisanal fishers, of the beaches, estuaries and marine life
Five weeks ago there was a very serious accident, causing an oil spill off the Brazilian northeast coast, which can be considered the biggest environmental disaster with extended oil in the world, reaching more than 2,000 km. Although there is a National Contingency Plan with technical-scientific expertise, experience and training in various states, it has only recently been put in motion and concrete actions are not yet evident, leaving populations, in particular, artisanal fishing communities, as well as the environment, exposed to the negative impacts of the spill.
The Northeast coasts are being hit with large amounts of crude oil and the only steps taken so far are to clean beaches rather than contain oil. In other words, the impact is expected to occur to diminish it rather than to take more efficient offshore oil collection measures. This situation is very troublesome to us since the oil spilled is made up of heavy oil, which is sinking over time and is arriving on the coast of Bahia without being noticeable by aerial view, as it no longer floats on the surface of the water.
We repudiate the lack of appropriate measures on the part of the competent bodies, in particular the contempt and omission of the Federal Government. The National Contingency Plan lists among its main objectives environmental protection and fishing resources, in the name of the importance of fishing as an activity exercised in the marine environment. Well, the impacts on the activity have been completely omitted until today.
Artisanal fishing communities should be associated with contamination monitoring operations and contingency plans because of their in-depth knowledge of the marine environment and their close reliance on its survival. On the contrary, what is observed is its marginalization from the few measures taken so far.
Public authorities should firstly provide extensive and detailed information on the ongoing process, with constant updates. Artisanal fishers should be requested to serve as a support group for the unified Command established in the state to take action on the alleged accident by virtue of their knowledge of the sea and coast in their diversity, as well as to support concrete oil containment actions to protect the coast. But to do so, they need the support of the various governments. This offer of active collaboration is based on the fragility of certain coastal and marine ecosystems that are extremely important for aquatic life.
Particular attention is given to reefs and mangroves and estuaries, which develop important ecosystem services. We remind you that the Bahian coast is characterized by important swamps of mangroves, with high biological productivity and that serve as fishing places for both sea fishermen and shellfish gatherers. As a result, hundreds of thousands of families have their social and economic livelihoods compromised, a base that provides an important source of animal protein for the affordable regional population, and this ecosystem is critical for tourism, culture and gastronomy of the coast.
Moreover, the relationship of fishing communities with water is not restricted to fishing; the waters are also waterways and recreational spaces. The mere contact with oil causes health problems, even for children, more fragile in terms of public health.
Given the spread of the Socio-Environmental and Occupational Crime, fishing communities already find it difficult to guarantee their subsistence with the population’s fear of buying fish and shellfish.
We therefore demand that the competent authorities immediately initiate the Contingency Plan in order to classify, control, remove the substance and prevent further damage and to provide ample and truthful information to the general population and fishermen in particular; and associate artisanal fishermen with contingency actions and contamination monitoring.
That emergency measures be taken to ensure the dignity of the fishing communities that are in serious difficulty.
With information courtesy of Al Jazeera, Carta Capital, Mídia 4P, EBC and Veja