Forty thousand liters of diesel oil has been spilled into the sea in a remote area of the Chilean side of Patagonia called Guarello Island, the pristine southernmost region making up the tip of both Argentina and Chile. The area is one of the planet’s most untouched with important biodiversity.

A statement from the Chilean navy said it received a call from the mining company CAP on Saturday reporting the spill at the terminal of Guarello island, about 1,740 miles (2,800km) south of Santiago, Chile’s capital.

Guarello Island, in the Magallanes region, has large reserves of limestone and is used by CAP as a mining base. The surrounding areas of Patagonia are home to a diverse range of ecosystems with rare flora as well as endangered species.

Ronald Baasch, commander of the navy’s Third Naval Zone said that the marine pollution control centre was activated and several units were deployed to the area to control the spill, which had entered the waters of the South Pacific. The navy reported that by Sunday approximately 15,000 liters of contaminated seawater were contained.

The cause of the spill was not immediately clear, and the Chilean Navy has launched an investigation.

Greenpeace Chile warned that the spill could have “devastating” environmental consequences. In a statement on Monday, the organization’s national director, Matías Asun, said: “It’s an extremely grave situation considering the pristine nature of the waters in which this environmental emergency has occurred. It must be considered that the zone is extremely difficult to access and that it is an area of great richness of marine mammals, like whales and dolphins, which could see themselves seriously affected in their habitat given that when coming to the surface to breathe they could meet this layer of oil.”

Asun urged the government to make all resources available and called on CAP to hand over as much information as possible on the spill.

CAP said it would collaborate in the probe and said it had initiated “a process of permanent monitoring in the area”, in addition to its standard control and mitigation measures.

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