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Stranded ship could ‘unleash a disaster’ in the Galápagos

Ecuador declares an environmental emergency at the UNESCO world heritage site

Ecuador declared an environmental emergency in the Galápagos Islands on Thursday, after a freighter carrying pollutants ran aground last week.

The measure will free up resources to remove the ship and mitigate its impact in the face of "possible environmental damage that could unleash a disaster," said the Directorate of the Galápagos National Park (DPNG).

The vessel, which on Friday found itself stranded in shallow water off the Baquerizo Moreno port on the island of San Cristóbal, was carrying 19,000 gallons of cargo fuel, which has already been removed. 

But highly polluting motor oil and cleaning products remain in the ship's airtight holds, yet to leak out. The Wall Street Journal estimates that about 1,100 tons of pollutants remain on board.

Thursday’s measure aims to protect the archipelago's marine reserve, specifically the "area affected by the stranding and possible sinking of the cargo ship Galapaface I," the DPNG said in a statement.

This isn't the first time an environmental disaster has threatened the island archipelago. In 2001 a stranded oil tanker dumped nearly 800,000 gallons into the area, nearly destroying the marine iguana population.

Ecuador’s Galápagos, in the Pacific Ocean about 620 miles west of the coast of Ecuador, are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Galapaface 1, which was carrying 1,000 tons of cargo when it ran aground, became blocked by sand and rocks that cracked its hull, causing flooding in the vessel's engine room.

The Galápagos are famous for their unique flora and fauna studied by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle as he developed his theory of evolution.

Al Jazeera and AFP

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