COLOMBIA has fined Alabama-based coal company Drummond Company US$3.6 million after it allegedly dumped up to 1900t of coal into the Caribbean Sea, and failed to report the incident to authorities.
A week after the announcement, the Colombian Government stated Drummond would be forced to close its Colombian mines within two weeks, following a five-day suspension of its port operations. Drummond – Colombia’s second largest coal producer – received the fine in late December after one of its barges on the Santa Marta coastline took on water due to high wind and wave conditions experienced earlier in the year.
According to a Drummond statement, the incident occurred at night and was not discovered until early the next morning.
The company’s onsite supervisors implemented rescue measures to prevent the barge from sinking, including using a crane to dip water out of the barge and dump it into the ocean.
However, Drummond’s technical analysis estimated about 200t of coal spilled into the sea.
Colombian Environment minister Luz Helena Sarmiento disputed the company’s claim, telling Wall Street Journal the amount of coal spilled totalled nearly 1900t.
As the fine was issued, Drummond was also accused of failing to notify authorities of the incident until more than a week after it occurred, when photos began appearing on social media.
In January the government stated it was preparing to make some “difficult decisions”, after reports emerged the company had continued to use barges at Ciénaga port in northern Colombia, subsequent to an agreed 1 January deadline.
“Governments sometimes have to take difficult decisions which sometimes cause problems,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said in a broadcast speech.
“Drummond is not obeying the law and the way it exports coal is polluting the bay of Santa Marta.”
According to BN Americas, Drummond threatened to suspend its 4160 workers if its port operations were halted. Ms Sarmiento said although the government recognised the potential repercussions of the move, it would not allow itself to be bullied.
“The law is for everyone,” Ms Sarmiento said.
“It’s a very costly decision for the country. In addition to socio-environmental issues, the credibility of Colombia’s authorities is at risk.”
Drummond currently produces about 75,000t per day of coal from its Colombian operations.