PUERTO BAQUERIZO, Galapagos Islands -- Authorities detained the captain of a crippled tanker who took the blame for the accident that spilled at least 185,000 gallons of fuel in the Galapagos Islands.
Capt. Tarquino Arevalo, who apparently mistook a signal buoy for a lighthouse, and 13 crewmen from the tanker Jessica were confined to a military base on San Cristobal island pending formal charges, Merchant Marines Vice Adm. Gonzalo Vega said Wednesday.
Arevalo and the tanker's owners could face two to four years in prison if convicted of negligence or crimes against the environment.
The Jessica ran aground nine days ago off San Cristobal Island, one of the Galapagos chain, spilling diesel fuel into an ecosystem populated by rare species that inspired Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
But the spill appeared less serious than it could have been, although the long-term environmental damage to the islands 600 miles off the mainland remained unclear.
Only one pelican and two seagulls are known to have died. But dozens of other birds and marine animals -- sea lions, seagulls, blue-footed boobies and albatrosses -- have been affected, Galapagos park officials said.
One environmental worker said that the spill was under control.
"We were very worried at first, but what has happened is not so grave," said Carlos Valle, the Galapagos coordinator for the World Wildlife Fund.
Hundreds of volunteers, park rangers and environmentalists combed the shores of San Cristobal and Santa Fe Island for wildlife affected by the spill. Four sea lion cubs were cleaned and released Wednesday, said park director Eliecer Cruz.
Some conservationists fear the fuel will sink to the ocean floor, destroying algae vital to the food chain and threatening marine iguanas, sharks, birds that feed off fish and other species.
Officials blamed human error for the spill -- an allegation Arevalo admitted to in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. He said he confused two landmarks, leading to the accident.
"I know what's happened but what can I do now?" he said in the interview aired Wednesday and posted on the BBC Web site.
Arevalo said he has not slept since the accident and knows the islanders blame him. "If they want to kill, kill me, but I need a little peace," he said.
Efforts to reach Arevalo for more comment were unsuccessful.
Conservationists worldwide demanded that Ecuador take greater steps to protect the Galapagos.
Ecuadorean Environment Minister Rodolfo Rendon said new legislation is being written to require special permission and insurance for all vessels entering the Galapagos with more than 10 gallons of fuel aboard.
Shipping authorities have confirmed that the Jessica was not insured for environmental contamination, he said. International shipping rules require such insurance for vessels carrying 2,000 tons of fuel, while the Jessica had only 300 tons aboard, Galapagos park officials said.
"We are writing up the regulations to establish what fuels can enter the Galapagos, and moreover, that the minimum amount possible is used," Rendon said.
The 28-year-old tanker Jessica is owned by the Ecuadorean company Acotramar. It regularly transported diesel and bunker, a heavy fuel used by tour boats, from the mainland into the Galapagos, Ecuador's main tourist attraction.
It was carrying a cargo of some 234,000 gallons of fuel when it hit bottom 550 yards off San Cristobal, the easternmost island in the archipelago.
Thousands of gallons were safely removed from the tanker after it hit, but much more spilled into the water.
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