Drummond dumps coal overboard to prevent barge sinking

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On January 13, 2013 the crew of a barge owned by the Drummond Company dumped approximately 1900 tonnes of coal into the ocean in a bid to avoid the barge sinking.

How much coal was dumped in the ocean is in dispute: while Drummond claimed it was approximately 200 tonnes the Colombian environmental regulator initially estimated that 875 tonnes[1] but later revised the figure to 1900 tonnes.[2]

After the incident the Colombian environmental authorities suspended Drummond's authorisation to export coal until such time as it had updated its management plan and while investigations were continuing. The suspension lasted for almost a month. In December 2013 Colombia's Environment Minister Luz Helena Sarmiento announced that Drummonf had been fined $3.6 million for the pollution. The Wall Street Journal reported that Sarmiento also said that Drummond will also have to pay for an extensive cleanup of the beaches and coastline near the port in Santa Marta.[2]

Accident

Drummond did not report the sinking to Colombian environmental authorities until 17 days after the accident even though its environmental licence required the company to report such an event within a maximum of three days. Director of the Colombian Environmental Licensing Agency (ANLA), Luz Helena Sarmiento, accused Drummond of covering the accident up. Drummond claimed the coal was dumped overboard to save lives but Sarmiento said that the company's licence did not allow it to dump into the ocean to save the barge.[3]

In a media statement on its website, Drummond stated that the barge:

"took on water due to high wind and wave conditions. This occurred at night and was not discovered until early the next morning. Drummond onsite supervisors implemented rescue measures to avoid sinking of the barge which included using a crane to dip water out of the barge and dump it into the ocean to keep the barge from completely sinking. Unfortunately, the water contained some coal and technical analysis estimates that approximately 200 tonnes were deposited into the ocean. The incident was an industrial accident and Drummond truly regrets this occurrence."

Drummond downplays effects of coal

In a media release, Drummond downplayed the significance of the dumping of coal in the ocean. It stated that after the barge accident:

"several detailed studies were completed including: INVEMAR, University Jorge Tadeo Lozano and Ecology and Environment, Inc (international consultants for environmental issues). All of these studies have been submitted to the government and to the Colombian press. Findings: coal is not a hazardous contaminant, there may have been some short term minor effects, after 30 days the ecosystem has returned to a “normal” state, there does not appear to be any long term lasting environmental impact, removing the coal from the bottom of the ocean is not necessary and would cause more harm than good, recommend ongoing monitoring as a precautionary measure. Actually, coal has been used for many years as a filter medium for drinking water. This said, our intention is to operate our marine operations in an environmentally friendly manner with no coal spills or pollution.

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