Greek vessel Bouboulina

On Friday, Brazilian federal marshals carried out Operation Stain, which investigates the origin and responsibility for the massive oil spill that has plagued the shores of Brazil’s Northeast for the past two months. So far, over 280 beach locations have been hit by the disaster, covering over one-third of the country’s coastline.

The police visited the headquarters of a company called Lachmann Agência Marítima, identified as the legal representative for Greek oil tanker

Bouboulina, which is suspected of having caused the spill.</p> <p>Lachmann, however, issued a statement saying it is not under investigation, but rather collaborating with the feds. &#8220;[We are] a service provider for shipping companies, with no links or interference in the operations, seaworthiness or propriety of ships.&#8221;</p> <p>The operation was greenlit by a federal court in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, where the investigation into the causes of the <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2019/10/10/northeast-oil-spills-new-environmental-headache-brazil/">oil spill</a> was launched. The new development came after a huge oil patch was found at least 700 km from the Brazilian coast. Environment Minister Ricardo Salles made early accusations about the case, blaming NGO Greenpeace.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/shutterstock_1539558560.jpg" alt="Oil stain in Salvador, Bahia. Photo: Joa Souza)." class="wp-image-26856" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/shutterstock_1539558560.jpg 1000w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/shutterstock_1539558560-300x200.jpg 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/shutterstock_1539558560-768x512.jpg 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/shutterstock_1539558560-610x407.jpg 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>Oil stain in Salvador, Bahia. Photo: Joa Souza)</figcaption></figure> <h2>What the Federal Police know so far</h2> <ul><li>The police believe the leak started between July 28 and 29, somewhere around 730 kilometers from the coast of Paraíba state. This hypotheses is in line with a mathematical model of Atlantic currents, based on which researchers from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro said the spill came from an area between 600 and 700 kilometers from the shore—that is, outside of Brazilian waters. We revealed this in our <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/weekly-report/2019/10/21/china-students-learning-portuguese/">October 21 Weekly Report</a>.)</li><li>After reportedly analyzing 826 satellite images, the feds say only one ship crossed the suspected area at the believed time of the spill: Bouboulina, a ship hoisting the Greek flag and owned by a company called Delta Tankers. The spill would have occurred during the vessel&#8217;s route between Venezuela and Singapore. According to <a href="https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:212925/mmsi:240463000/vessel:BOUBOULINA">MarineTraffic.com</a>, Bouboulina is currently in South African waters.</li><li>The suspected vessel was detained in a U.S. port prior to going to Venezuela (the South American country is currently under sanctions by Donald Trump&#8217;s White House).</li><li>Over 1,000 tons of polluting material were removed from Brazilian shores. However, in one-third of locations oil stains resurfaced, even after cleaning efforts by authorities and local volunteers.</li></ul> <h2>Still-unanswered questions</h2> <ul><li>Investigators still don&#8217;t know whether or not the crude oil was intentionally dumped into the ocean. Earlier this week, Vice President Hamilton Mourão said the police had zeroed in on a few suspected tankers—and that it was probably an intentional move to help the vessel regain its balance.</li><li>The police still haven&#8217;t determined who owns the cargo being transported by Bouboulina.&nbsp;</li></ul> <h2>Next steps to the investigation</h2> <p>The Federal Police still don&#8217;t know the origin of the spill—therefore, the investigations will continue, with the following future stages:</p> <ul><li>The police will inspect the oil collected in all nine Northeast states, as well as analyze dead animals found along the coast, looking for evidence that would help find new relevant information.</li><li>Through Interpol, law enforcement will further scrutinize data on the Bouboulina tanker—obtaining information on its crew.&nbsp;</li><li>After determining the persons responsible for the incident, police will charge them for environmental crimes.</li></ul> <p>The investigations are carried out by a joint effort between Brazil&#8217;s Federal Police, Navy, Federal Prosecution Office, National Petrol Agency, environmental agencies, and local universities.

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BY Gustavo Ribeiro

Gustavo is the founder of The Brazilian Report, and is an award-winning journalist with experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. His work has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets.