Over 1,400 fisherman from the Bay of Santa Marta area on Colombia’s northern coast are preparing to sue environmental authorities and the US multinational coal giant responsible for a major coal spill that has allegedly impacted fish populations.
The Alabama-based Drummond Company, the second largest producer of coal in Colombia, the fourth largest exporting country in the world, was already fined over $3.5 million by the Colombian government and ordered to pay for cleanup efforts following a January 2013 incident in which some 2,000 tons of coal were dumped into the Santa Marta Bay off a sinking barge.
Environmental regulations on the books at the time banned the use of barges in coal shipping operations, and the company, which had attempted to cover up the spill and continued to use its crane-and-barge system for an additional year afterwards, eventually saw its port liscence suspended by the Ministry of the Environment while a new direct-loading dock was constructed.
Now, nine months after sanctions were originally handed down, the company could be facing much more severe liability. While the government’s fine, heralded as “the first of its kind” by the minster of the environment, amounted to significantly less than a day’s earnings for the coal giant, fisherman in the Bay of Santa Marta will soon be pursuing a reported $103.82 million lawsuit against the company for alleged damages.
The 1,450 fisherman reportedly linked to the suit allege that accumulated coal pollution in the bay has destroyed fish nurseries and vital coral reefs, perhaps irrevocably.
The lawsuit will also include grievances against the Ministry of the Environment and the National Environmental Licensing Authority (ANLA), which failed to stem longstanding Drummond practices that stood in clear violation of existing environmental protections, reported Caracol Radio.
At the time this article was published, neither the company nor the relevant government bodies had responded to Colombia Reports’ requests for comment. Caracol Radio reported that ANLA and the Environmental Ministry have indicated that Drummond bears sole responsibility for the damages. The company, meanwhile, was said to have denied any clear link between the 2013 coal spill and the diminshed hauls reported by fishermen.
To date, Drummond has reportedly avoided having to pay the initial government fine, which is currently being appealed, according to Semana magazine. There have been noted improvements to the conditions of beaches in the Bay of Santa Marta since Drummond ended its crane-and-barge system, RCN Radio reported, but coal stains and floating contamination are still readily visible.
Colombia Reports has so far been unable to verify what efforts, if any, the company has made to comply with its mandated responsibility to clean up the bay, a popular tourist destination on the Caribbean coast.
Neither the shipping license nor a protracted workers strike earlier this year have affected Drummond’s bottomline, according to Reuters.
The company, which had previously claimed a shipping suspension would lead to a shutdown of its mining operations, was said to have continued mining and storing coal throughout the port renovation process. The 3,000 maintenance contractors who went on strike seeking wage hikes were reportedly replaced by other contractors, and have since returned to work.
If the fishermen’s case moves forward in Colombian court, it will be the second major suit currently being leveled against the company. A separate class action already making its way through the US legal system alleges that Drummond was instrumental in the creation of a local paramilitary bloc, charges the company has repeatedly denied.
A 130-page human rights report released earlier this year includes firsthand testimony from former paramilitaries and company employees detailing the alleged relationship, which reportedly included explicit instructions to target Drummond union members with intimidation and violence. Since the report’s publication, lawmakers in Holland, the chief destination for Drummond “blood coal,” have come under pressure to ban company imports.
The authors claim Drummond executives paid the AUC paramilitary group, labeled an official terrorist organization by the United States State Department prior to its ostensible demobilization in 2006, to establish the Juan Andres Alvarez (JAA) bloc in the area surrounding the company’s mining and shipping operations.
During the years in question, the JAA is attributed with 2,600 selective assassinations, 500 massacre killings, 240 disappearances, and 59,000 forced displacements, figures the report says are conservative due to the low rate of reported incidents.
Terry Collingsworth, the lawyer litigating the US class action suit — as well as similar actions against Coca Cola, Chiquita Brands, and Dole Fruit, alll accused of paramilitary ties in northern Colombia — told Colombia Reports, “This is a company with a lot of blood on its hands. It’s shown a general disrepect for Colombian law, not to mention human dignity.”
- Previous interview with Terry Collingsworth
- Pescadores de Magdalena denunciaran a Drummond por derrame de carbon (Caracol Radio)
- Pescadores demandad a Drummond por accidentes de barcazas (W Radio)
- Playas de Cienaga y Santa Marta siguen manchadas por el carbon (RCN Radio)