In Brazil, the oil spill, still unknown, reaches the coast of the State of Rio

Three months after the discovery of the first traces of oil on the beaches, more than 2,000 km of coast have been affected, and the president is preparing "the worst".

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The extent of the spill is monitored by the Ministry of Defense in Brasilia (November 21). ADRIANO MACHADO / REUTERS

The oil spill that has already contaminated more than 2,000 km of the Brazilian coastline since the end of August reached the state of Rio de Janeiro for the first time, in small quantities and far from the most famous beaches, but President Bolsonaro fears that the worse to come.

According to the Navy, 300 grams of oil were found on Grussai beach, in Sao Joao da Barra, more than 300 km north of Rio de Janeiro, the tourist capital of Brazil. "The analyzed samples are compatible with the oil found on the northeastern coast" said a statement, illustrated with a photo showing small black pellets of less than one centimeter in the palm of a Navy member using a plastic glove.

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"We are preparing for the worst"

"We still do not know how much oil is still at sea"Saturday, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on the sidelines of a military ceremony in the city of Rio. "In the worst case scenario, if an oil tanker has thrown all of its cargo into the sea, less than 10% has arrived on our shores. That's why we are preparing for the worst ", he added.

This mysterious oil spill began to foul beaches in the northeastern region at the end of August, with the first pancakes having arrived in the state of Paraiba. It then spread in large quantities, arriving in early November in the state of Espirito Santo (southeast), north of Rio. According to the Navy, more than 4,500 tonnes of oil residues have been collected and more than 5,000 soldiers have been mobilized for clean-up operations.

Volunteers collect oil cakes in the state of Bahia on 26 October.
Volunteers collect oil cakes in the state of Bahia on 26 October. LUCAS LANDAU / REUTERS

Concern for corals and mangroves

The public environmental agency Ibama has identified more than 700 localities whose seashores have been soiled with oil, the oil spill affecting more than 70% of the coastal cities of the northeast, a poor region whose economy is highly dependent on tourism .

The fragments of oil found in the state of Rio are for the moment still several hundred kilometers from iconic places like the beach of Copacabana or the seaside resort of Buzios, very popular with tourists from all over the world, but the scale of affected areas has steadily increased in recent months. Beyond the beaches, specialists are worried about the pollution of coral reefs and mangroves, which are much harder to clean.

The Bolsonaro government, whose environmental policy has already been heavily criticized for the resurgence of wildfires and deforestation in the Amazon, has been questioned by several NGOs who denounce the inertia of the authorities in the face of the oil spill.

Original pollution still unknown three months later

The causes of this environmental disaster have not yet been established and the origin of the leak remains unknown, even though analysis of samples confirmed that the oil was of Venezuelan origin.

Authorities announced in early November that suspicions weighed on a Greek freighter named Bouboulina, but the shipowner denied any involvement. On Thursday, researchers from the University of Alagoas (Northeast) presented at a hearing in the Chamber of Deputies a report outlawing Bouboulina, but casting suspicion on other ships, claims for the moment not confirmed by the authorities.

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