Emergency alert off Costa Rican coast after chemical spill

Ship carrying 200 tonnes of ammonium nitrate capsizes near tourist town of Puntarenas, people barred from swimming, fishing

By DTE Staff
Published: Monday 04 May 2015

The photo shows floating dead fish that could have been killed by the chemical spill (Photo: National Emergency Commission’s Facebook page)

A ship carrying toxic chemicals sparked an emergency alert off the coast of Costa Rican tourist town Puntarenas after it sank in the seas, news reports say.

Following the incident, the National Emergency Commission (CNE) of Costa Rica, responsible for risk management, established an emergency zone along 100 km of the Pacific coastline and asked people to avoid swimming and fishing.

Puntarenas is 90 km west of the capital, San Jose. CNE said fishing would be banned for a further 72 hours. Tourists have been prevented from travelling between the port towns of Caldera and Puntarenas.

Toxic effect of ammonium nitrate

The ship was carrying 200 tonnes of ammonium nitrate used to make fertilisers and explosives. According to CNE, the accident occurred on Saturday when the vessel, which was transporting the chemical for fertiliser company, Fertilizantes de Centroamerica, capsized all of a sudden. Two crew members were rescued.

According to experts, ammonium nitrate is highly soluble in water. Claudia Agraz Hernandez, an environmental expert, was quoted by Aljazeera as telling Spanish online news site ElPais.cr that the spill “could produce a proliferation of micro-algae, a depletion of oxygen in the waters, and the death of several marine species”.

Other damages could include “problems with nutrients along the coast, water quality, and damage to the mangroves and fisheries, which could be significant,” she said.

The CNE has also posted photos online showing floating dead fish that could have been killed by the chemical spill.

Government officials said an enquiry into who was responsible for the ship’s sinking and the subsequent spillage would start soon. It seems that the boat capsized due to strong waves. Costa Rica witnesses the largest number of foreign tourists in Central America and is a popular destination for nature lovers because of its pristine beaches, forests and nature reserves.

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