Repsol says it will finish cleaning up Peru oil spill in late March

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VENTANILLA, Peru, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Spanish energy firm Repsol SA (REP.MC) said on Thursday it will only finish cleaning up a large oil spill off the coast of Peru in late March, pushing back an earlier timeline it had set of late February.

"That is an optimistic scenario," Jose Terol, a Repsol executive in charge of the cleanup told reporters during a visit to the company's emergency operations center.

The new timeline revises what company executives had said as recently as on Tuesday, that cleaning the beaches and the ocean would finish in late February.

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Terol said the March deadline was tied to removing remnant oil from remote rocky cliffs, which are harder to reach due to strong waves.

The Jan. 15 oil spill of over 10,000 barrels of oil into the Pacific Ocean happened just north of Lima at Repsol's La Pampilla refinery, the country's largest.

Peru has called it the worst environmental disaster in recent memory and prosecutors have barred four top executives from leaving the country for 18 months.

Repsol has blamed the spill on unusual waves caused by a volcanic eruption thousands of miles away in Tonga, but the exact cause remains under investigation.

The government has accused Repsol of misrepresenting the size of the incident. Repsol first reported the spill involved 0.16 barrels before updating the figure to over 10,000, after the government's own estimate indicated the spill to be around 11,900 barrels.

Terol explained cleaning the ocean could end in mid-February if weather conditions allowed, while cleaning up the beaches would finish in late February.

"We estimate we'll be in an acceptable situation toward the end of March, more or less," Terol said.

He added that the oil had spread to an area of over 105 square kilometers (40.5 square miles), although it had dispersed into smaller stains.

Terol said Repsol had cleaned about 33% of the spill. The company said on Jan. 28 it had recovered 35% of all the oil spilled, a figure it has not updated since.

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Reporting by Marcelo Rochabrun; Editing by Karishma Singh

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