Galapagos emergency over stranded cargo ship

Picture taken on May 13, 2014 showing an Ecuadoran freighter which ran aground on May 9, 2014, in the Galapagos islands. The ship's cargo has been emptied, but it is feared that pollutants could spill over

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Ecuador has declared an emergency in the Galapagos Islands, saying that a cargo ship which ran aground last week still poses a threat to the archipelago's fragile ecosystem.

The ship's cargo has been offloaded, but the authorities said pollutants, like motor oil, inside the vessel could spill and cause environmental damage.

They were working to remove the ship.

The Galapagos are home to unique animal species such as the giant tortoise, marine iguana and flightless cormorant.

In 1978, the chain of volcanic islands were declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The Ecuadorean freighter, the Galapaface I, became stranded off the rocky coast of the island of San Cristobal last Friday.

It was carrying more than 70,000 litres (15,400 gallons) of diesel fuel.

'Environmental risk'

The governor of the Galapagos said that, despite having emptied all the fuel, some pollutants remained inside.

"The ship is stranded and continues to present an environmental risk for the Galapagos Marine Reserve and must leave the area," Jorge Torres told the Efe news agency.

A Galapagos giant tortoise is pictured on May 13, 2014. The Galapagos are home to unique animal species such as the giant tortoise

In a statement, the Ecuadorian government said the emergency measure would free up resources to remove the vessel.

"As a result of the emergency declaration the Risk Management Secretariat will be able to directly carry out the purchase of goods, the procurement of services and the work that are required to overcome this emergency."

It did not say how long it would take to complete the removal of the vessel.

Darwin's finches

This is not the first ship accident in the Galapagos.

In 2001, an oil tanker also became stranded off the coast of San Cristobal, spilling fuel and decimating the marine iguana population.

An aerial view of the tanker Jessica is seen Saturday, January 20, 2001 in the Galapagos Islands. In 2001, an oil tanker became stranded, spilling fuel and killing marine wildlife

The archipelago, about 1,000 kilometres (625 miles) off the South American continent, is a major tourist attraction in Ecuador.

It first became known for its endemic finches, which were studied by the British scientist Charles Darwin in the 1830s.

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