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Barge Carrying Caustic Chemical Sinks

Costa Rican Shipwreck

Published May 4, 2015 2:54 PM by Kathryn Stone

An emergency alert was issued on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast this weekend after a barge carrying ammonium nitrate capsized. The vessel was transporting around 180 tons of the caustic chemical Saturday when it ran into heavy seas. 

Two crew members onboard were rescued immediately after the vessel sank, but the entire cargo of ammonium nitrate was released into surrounding waters. The ship was transporting the chemical to local fertilizer plant Fertilizantes de Centroamerica when it capsized.

Following the incident, Costa Rica’s National Emergency Commission (CNE) closed down approximately 62 miles of shoreline near Puntarenas, a popular tourist destination. 

Reinaldo Carballo, spokeswoman for the CNE, told news sources that the emergency alert was issued due to public health concerns. Ammonium nitrate is a chemical commonly used in both fertilizers and explosives is a known skin irritant and can cause damage to the skin and respiratory system. Extreme exposure can result in vomiting, convulsions and severe abdominal pain.

As of today the ‘red alert’ state had been downgraded to yellow alert, which only bans fishing activities in the area. The alert is expected to continue for a 72 hour period as additional testing is conducted.

Ammonium nitrate is highly soluble in water and it is believed that much of the initial contamination may have dissolved or been dispersed by ocean currents.

Government officials are still investigating the ship’s sinking and will launch an inquiry to determine responsibility for this incident.