Brazil says oil on its beaches 'likely from Venezuela'

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Thick crude oil that has been mysteriously washing up on beaches in Brazil is “very likely from Venezuela,” Brazilian Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said on Wednesday, citing a report by state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA.

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Salles told a congressional hearing that it appeared a foreign ship navigating near Brazil’s coast caused an oil spill “accidentally or not” that is “enormously difficult to contain.”

Venezuela’s information ministry and state oil company PDVSA did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

For more than a month, Brazilian authorities have been investigating oil of unclear origin washing up across hundreds of kilometers of beaches in nine northeastern states. On Monday, Salles said that more than 100 tonnes of oil had already been collected from the coastline since Sept. 2.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday suggested possible sources of the oil spill.

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“It could be something criminal, it could be an accidental spill, it could also be a ship that sank. It is complex. We have on our radar screen a country that could be the origin of the oil,” Bolsonaro said.

He declined to name the country because the investigation was still underway.

The comments from Salles on Wednesday came as he made the case for Brazil to institute better mechanisms to control oil spills, while defending efforts by environmental authorities, the military and other agencies to clean up and investigate the spill.

“This incident on the coast shows precisely the importance of (environmental) licensing, of a model and of a system to efficiently contain the damages,” Salles said.

“When (a spill) is of an unknown origin as is the present case, the system clearly needs to be improved.”

Reporting by Jake Spring in Brasilia; Additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Caracas; Editing by Bernadette Baum