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Accident date
Accident area
Wreck Bay, Galapagos islands
Spill area
Cause of spill
Quantity transported
600 tonnes of light fluel oil (FOD) + 300 tonnes of intermediate fuel oil (IFO 120)
Nature of pollutant
light (FOD) and intermediate (IFO 120) fuel oil
Quantity spilled
approximately 600 tonnes
Ship / structure type
Oil tanker
Built date
Nisaii Dock Co. Ltd (Japon)
68 m
4.5 m
Marshall islands

On 16 January 2001, the tanker Jessica ran aground during a storm in the entrance channel of Port Baquerizo Moreno in Wreck Bay on the island of San Cristobal, in the Galapagos islands. The vessel, built in 1971, had a deadweight tonnage of 2,000 tonnes and was carrying 600 tonnes of diesel and 300 tonnes of IFO 120. The diesel was to be delivered to the distribution station on Baltra island and the fuel was for the « Galapagos Explorer » tourism vessel. This archipelago is on the World Heritage list. It is a National Park and a Maritime Nature Reserve and has unique endemic species. It comprises twelve islands and covers an area of 450 km.


The Jessica was chartered to replace another tanker, the Doris, that was not in working order. The commanding officer was not qualified for the trip to the Galapagos islands on a vessel of that size. On 26 January he admitted to the Board of Enquiry that he had acted rashly. Having previously lived in Baquerizo Moreno for 10 years, but not having been back for 7 years, he had not checked the charts to see whether there had been any beacon position changes in the entrance channel.

The leak started on 20 January. The Galapagos National Park staff, the Navy, local fishermen and volunteers attempted to contain and collect the pollutant on the water surface. The coastline of San Cristobal island was oiled very quickly. Slicks then started to drift westwards towards the island of Santa Fe, which was inhabited by a colony of sea lions (Zalophus californianus wollebaeki) and sea iguanas (Ambryrhynchus cristatus). The slicks then went on to threaten the islands of Santa Cruz and Isabela with their colonies of pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis).




Built by

Nisaii Dock Co. Ltd (Japan)


Oil tanker


2,000 tonnes


10 tanks


68 m


4,5 m


Daikatou - 1,500 HP

Bunker capacity

71 tonnes






Marshall islands

Measures taken and foreign assistance

A contingency plan was immediately implemented and the operation was entrusted to the General Management of the Merchant Navy with assistance from the Galapagos National Park and the Ministry of the Environment. The Ecuador government earmarked 2 million dollars in the first instance for response expenditure and launched an international appeal for help, in a bid to limit the impact of the oil on the flora and fauna. Overflights were organised so as to locate the slicks and estimate their drift, all necessary information for decision making.

In spite of the immediate action taken by the local authorities and volunteers, the lack of adequate response equipment and materials and the fact that the Jessica was lying on her port side prevented responders from containing the pollution. The slicks started drifting west north west pushed by winds and current. The oil hit the islands of San Cristobal and Santa Fe and a few sea lions and sea birds were affected. Staff from the US Coast Guard (USCG) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) arrived on 21 January with response equipment.

After making contact with the Ecuadorian government, the European Commission sent out a team of three pollution response experts on 24 January to assess response requirements. The team was made up of a Spanish and a British expert, as well as a French egineer from Cedre.


Alarming press releases about the impact of the pollution on the fauna announced "an environmental disaster", qualified as being "unprecedented" as far as sea birds, sea iguanas and turtles were concerned. However no serious damage was reported. There were only a few slicks drifting to the south of Isabela island and some sheen and tar balls on the beaches of the archipelago, ten days after the incident.

The Charles Darwin Institute performed a situation analysis on 23 January, which was subsequently confirmed by European experts, claimaing that "the impact of this spill on the Galapagos ecosystem should not be serious. The small size of the spill, national and international mobilisation, wind and current regimes have all made a contribution to avoiding a catastrophe."

 The European experts wrote up a few recommendations at the end of their assignment. They pointed in particular to the need to train staff in how to respond to an accidental oil spill. Furthermore, during talks with the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment, the need for a well suited contingency plan was evoked.

Report issued by the Charles Darwin foundation

A final report on the biological impacts of the spill on the Galapagos environment was issued by the Charles Darwin foundation in January 2002.

The report comments in its executive summary that "due to the behaviour of many ocean-dependant Galapagos animals, and the extreme toxicity of diesel, many affected animals might have died at sea and sunk, and would not have been found or reported."

It records that "Only 370 large animals were reported to CDRS to be affected by oil. However, additional anecdote reports indicated that tens to thousands of fish and invertebrates (such as crabs) were also affected. The largest numbers of affected animals were found on San Cristobal and Santa Fé, and were reported shortly after the spill."

Marine iguanas were particularly badly affected. "While all three sea lion colonies studied on San Cristobal as part of the southern Galapagos long-term monitoring program exhibited population declines during the six month period following the spill, for the year following the spill overall, densities were similar to the previous year with no significant declines in population numbers detected. Marine iguana exposed to Jessica oil on Santa Fé showed elevated levels of corticosterone comparable to levels during El Nino events when 60% of their population perished."

Fishing was affected on a small scale. "In contrast to general perceptions and reports in the media, analyses of fisheries monitoring data revealed no clear impact of the Jessica oil spill on fishing effort, total fishing catches or catch-per-unit effort (CPUE) for the Galapagos artisanal fishing sector. Nevertheless, larger, locally-based boats tended to move away from sites near the path of the spill following the grounding in 2001, with no fishing recorded from the oil-affected islands of Floreana and southern Isabela in February 2001."

And finally, "a study of the biological impacts at the wreck site itself indicated that effects on subtidal reef communities were generally localised within approximately 100 m of the wreck site. Increase in the density of several algal, sea urchin, hydroid and fish taxa were detected adjacent to the wreck, and were probably caused by Jessica-associated disturbance."

Last update on 28/03/2001

External links

Charles Darwin Foundation, informations on conservation, biodiversity and environment of the Galapagos

NOAA news, provides oil expertise in Galapagos islands spill, Jessica

Sea Alarm, Full report on Sea Alarm’s involvement

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