Brazil's Mystery Oil Spills May Have Criminal Source: President

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Tuesday the oil spills that have been contaminating the northeastern coast since the beginning of September appeared to involve crimes.

"It seems that something was dumped criminally," Bolsonaro said in Brasilia after meeting with Environment Minister Ricardo Salles.

But Bolsonaro declined to say who authorities suspect to be behind the leak. On Monday, the president said one country was on their radar.

Local authorities began investigating the oil spills on Sept. 2, when the oil sludge started to land on Brazilian shores.

The spills have now reached 61 municipalities in nine states, contaminating more than 130 beaches, the Environment Ministry said in a statement Monday.

Roberto Castello Branco, president of state oil company Petrobras, called the spills a "very worrying disaster" on Tuesday.

"It is a very strange phenomenon, there are no signs that it is receding," Castello Branco told members of the lower house of Congress' mining and energy commission.

The company had helped retrieve over 130 tons of oil as of Monday night.

Petrobras analyzed several samples of spilled oil and determined it was not produced or commercialized by the company but said it came from a single source.

In the state of Sergipe, authorities declared a state of emergency and recommend people not use beaches that were contaminated.

Last week, Brazil's environmental body urged beachgoers and fishermen to avoid the material. It said the situation is stable in the waters of the most affected state, Rio Grande do Norte. Investigators are now concentrating on the Amazon state of Maranhao, close to the border with French Guiana.

Anna Carolina Lobo, a coordinator of the marine program of the WWF conservation group in Brazil, said it is alarming that Brazilian authorities don't know the origin of the oil spills.

"The surveillance in our waters, no matter if this was an intentional or an unintentional spill, is too fragile for a country this big," Lobo said.

"Brazil has few boats and analysts to follow what happens in our waters," she said.

State support for such surveillance is diminishing further under President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in January, according to Lobo. Bolsonaro has criticized nonprofit groups and environmental activists.

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