By Jimena de la Quintana, Karol Suarez and Claudia Rebaza, CNN
Four oil executives in Peru have been prevented from leaving the country as authorities investigate a massive oil spill that forced Lima to declare an environmental emergency earlier this month.
The travel ban will last 18 months, according to Judge Romualdo Aguedo. It applies to four employees of the Spanish energy and oil company Repsol: the manager of the La Pampilla refinery, Jaime Fernández-Cuesta, and three company directors – Renzo Tejada, Gisela Posadas and José Rey.
The four will not contest the decision, according to their lawyers, who said Repsol executives planned to work with authorities while they investigate the disaster.
Last week, Peruvian President Pedro Castillo declared an environmental emergency for the coastal areas affected by the spill, calling it an “ecological disaster”. The measure is expected to take 90 business days, Castillo said.
The Jan. 15 oil spill happened when crude oil was offloaded from a ship to the La Pampilla refinery, managed by Repsol, after a powerful volcano erupted thousands of miles away in Tonga.
The ship was hit by waves caused by the underwater eruption, dumping more than 6,000 barrels of crude oil into the waters near the Ventanilla district of Callao, Peru’s main seaport.
Since then, oil has been found in the ocean and beach sands along the Peruvian coast, including the islands of Pescadores and Puntas Guaneras.
“The crude oil spill represents a sudden event with a significant impact on the coastal marine ecosystem with high biodiversity and a high public health risk,” the Peruvian government said in a statement last Sunday.
Peruvian Foreign Minister Oscar Maurtua last week called on Repsol to compensate fishermen whose livelihoods were all but destroyed after the accident.
“The Repsol spill in Ventanilla is the worst ecological disaster to hit Lima in recent times, causing severe harm to hundreds of fishing families. Repsol must replace this damage immediately,” Maurtua said in a tweet.
A Repsol spokesman denied that the company should accept responsibility for the incident. Last week, Tine Van Den Wall Bake told local radio station RPP that “we did not cause this environmental disaster and we cannot say who is responsible.”
The spokesman added that they had asked the Peruvian Navy if there was a tsunami risk at that time and if the discharge should continue. The Navy gave Repsol the green light for normal operations, Bake said.
She added that the company is committed to restoring the entire coast to its original state. In a Sunday statement, Repsol said it had organized more than 1,350 “properly trained” people to clean up the oceans and shorelines affected by the spill.
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CNN’s Jose Armijo contributed to this report.