Hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel sank into the waters off the Galápagos Islands on Sunday after a crane toppled onto a barge and caused it to overturn, the authorities in Ecuador said, prompting an emergency cleanup in one of the world’s most revered natural destinations.
The authorities said that 600 gallons were on the barge when it sank off San Cristóbal Island, threatening the nearby environment. They declared an emergency and said they had ordered an investigation.
It was not immediately clear how much fuel had leaked out of the ship, but photos posted on Twitter on Sunday by Ecuador’s Ministry of the Environment showed officials with the Galápagos National Park and the country’s Coast Guard on boats racing to contain the spill.
On Monday, Lenín Moreno, the president of Ecuador, said on Twitter that the spill was under control.
Dramatic video of the crane collapse shows workers trying to load a shipping container onto what appears to be a relatively small vessel called the Orca. As the crane hoists the container over the ship, the container comes crashing down onto the Orca, pulling the crane with it. The crane tumbles over the Orca and into the water, and the ship flips onto its side as people on board dive into the water.
It was not immediately clear if anyone had been injured in the episode or how significant the environmental damage was.
Government officials said in a statement on Sunday that emergency responders had placed hydrocarbon materials and containment barriers around the Orca to prevent leaks.
The Galápagos Islands, which are about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, are known for their role in inspiring Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution after he visited there in 1835.
The islands have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Their scenery and unique wildlife — including marine iguanas, flightless cormorants and giant tortoises — have made them increasingly popular with tourists, though scientists have warned that more visitors could threaten the area’s fragile ecosystem.
Warming oceans increasingly threaten the islands. UNESCO has warned that they are one of the places most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Sunday’s accident paled in comparison to a spill in the islands in 2001, when a tanker slammed into a reef off San Cristóbal Island and poured 150,000 gallons of diesel and bunker fuel into the water.
While winds sent much of the slick out to sea, sparing some Galápagos wildlife, scientists found that the population of marine iguanas on one island, Santa Fe, declined to 10,000 from 25,000 in the wake of the disaster.
Karen Zraick contributed reporting.