Brazil slaps multimillion dollar fines on companies responsible for oil spill

Environmental authorities slapped multimillion dollar fines on a shipping yard and a shipping company Tuesday over an oil spill that fouled 14 kilometers (9 miles) of beaches outside this city.

Ibama, Brazil's environmental protection agency, fined the shipping yard Enave/Renave and Mascot Shipping Ltd. _ which owned the ship that spilled oil _ 10 million reals (US$4.3 million) each.

The spill occurred Saturday night, when a Bahamas-flagged ship cracked its hull in a minor accident as it approached the shipyard. It isn't clear what the ship hit to cause the leak.

The spill dumped 14,100 liters (3,725 gallons) of oil into Guanabara Bay.

In statements to police, the ship's captain and shipyard officials blamed each other for the leak.

State authorities at first said the ship had only leaked some 2,000 liters (530 gallons) of oil into the bay, but changed their estimate after oil kept washing up on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro's sister city, Niteroi, just across the bay.

More than 50 truckloads of oil-contaminated sand were removed Sunday from the upscale beaches of Boa Viagem, Flechas and Icarai in Niteroi.

Rio de Janeiro's beaches were not affected, but crews set up floating barriers in the bay in an effort to keep the black oil slick from spreading.

Oil spills are not uncommon in badly polluted Guanabara Bay.

The worst spill occurred in 2000, when a ruptured pipeline at a Petrobras refinery dumped at least 340,000 gallons (1.29 million liters) of crude into the bay, killing birds and fish and devastating environmentally sensitive mangrove swamps.

Brazil's environmental crimes law allows authorities to assign massive fines and even imprison polluters, but often the fines are significantly reduced on appeal, AP reported.