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Oil spill in 2019 in the sea and on the beaches of Northeast, Brazil

Brazil struggled to identify tanker behind oil leak contaminating half Brazil’s coast. Thousands of volunteers cleaned the beaches stained by oil. Great environmental and economic losses.


The 2019 oil spills off the northeast coast of Brazil are considered the largest environmental disaster on the country's coast. Started in August 2019, the oil has been spreading across the contaminated area. As of January 8, 2020, 998 locations in 120 municipalities and nine states in Northeast Brazil were accounted for, according to the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA). It is estimated that around 2,000 tons of oil have been collected from the beaches.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict: Oil spill in 2019 in the sea and on the beaches of Northeast, Brazil
State or province:Nordeste (Pernambuco, Bahia, Piauí, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Alagoas, Sergipe, Maranhão, Paraíba)
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details

In November 2019 it was reported [1] that a Greek-flagged ship carrying Venezuelan crude was the source of an oil spill which has tarred thousands of kilometers of coastline over the past two months, Brazilian investigators announced. Police said the tanker appeared to have spilled the crude about 700km (420 miles) off Brazil’s coast between 28 and 29 July, bound for Singapore with oil loaded at Venezuela’s San José terminal. Brazil’s solicitor general said the country would seek damages in the case, which has stained tropical beaches along 2,500km of coastline with a thick sludge, hurting tourism and fishing communities in the poorer north-east region.

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Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:30/08/2019
Relevant government actors:State Governments and City Halls, Environment Departments (municipal and state), Health Departments (municipal and state), Federal Universities, Institutes and Research Centers from different areas, Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Health, Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama), Public Ministry, Public Ministry of Labor.
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Conselho Pastoral da Pesca (CPP)
Articulação Nacional de Pescadoras (ANP) -
Movimento de Pescadores e Pescadoras Artesanais (MPP)
Salve Maracaipe, WWF Brazil, Greenpeace Brazil, Moviment Porto 2039, Institute BiomaBrasil, #VazaOleo
Rede Manguemar
Núcleo de Estudos Humanidades, Comissão Nacional para o Fortalecimento das Reservas Extrativistas e dos Povos Extrativistas Costeiros Marinhos (Confrem)
Coletivo de Comunicação Intervozes
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Informal workers
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Trade unions
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Air pollution, Genetic contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Other Environmental impacts
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Deaths, Other Health impacts, Malnutrition, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Other Health impactsAcute and chronic intoxications can cause symptoms related to damage to the nervous system, such as nausea, headache, vision disorders, mental confusion, sleep disorders; respiratory problems, cardiac arrhythmias, abortion, cancer, anemia, bone marrow aplasia, among other conditions. If the exposure is too intense it can produce coma and death.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Other socio-economic impacts
Project StatusUnknown
Conflict outcome / response:Under negotiation
No liability, no reparations so far ( Sept. 2020)
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Government measures taken so far have not been decisive as to the severity of the oil spill. This is justified by the recurrence of the appearance of large quantities of the product on many beaches, the lack of information on the origin and size of the disaster, the dangers and risks related to contact with the product, the destination of the material removed. The costs of the spillage will never be repaid. The tanker responsible and liable for the spill appears not to have been identified with certainty.
Sources & Materials

[1] The Guardian. Brazil blames devastating oil spill on Greek-flagged tanker. 1 Nov. 2019.
[click to view]

[2] Science. Mysterious oil spill threatens marine biodiversity haven in Brazil. By Herton EscobarNov. 4, 2019
[click to view]

[3]Spill and run: Brazil struggles to identify tanker behind major oil leak. Mystery ship responsible for contaminating half Brazil’s coast highlights gaps in global shipping industry regulations.

Manuela Andreoni, Letícia Casado December 23, 2019.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[4] Bird Life International, 20 Febr. 2020
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Caroline Pontes, Cremilda Ferreira e Mariana Olívia - Laboratório de Saúde Ambiente e Trabalho/Instituto Aggeu Magalhães/Fiocruz Pernambuco) [email protected]
Last update22/10/2020
Conflict ID:4888
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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