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Originally published Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 10:43 AM

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Chile investigate massive prawn death

Chilean officials say they are investigating the death of thousands of prawns that washed ashore Wednesday, covering a beach in red.

The Associated Press

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SANTIAGO, Chile —

Chilean officials say they are investigating the death of thousands of prawns that washed ashore Wednesday, covering a beach in red.

The dead shrimp appeared in Coronel, about 330 miles (530 kilometers) south of the capital, Santiago.

Local fishermen say the Bocamina 1 and 2 power plants owned by regional electricity generator Endesa and the Santa Maria plant controlled by Chilean power company Colbun have heated the waters, endangering their livelihood.

"I'm 69 years old and starting fishing when I was 9, but as a fisherman, I never saw a disaster of this magnitude," Gregorio Ortega told local Radio Bio Bio.

Hundreds of dead crabs also washed up in the same area over the weekend.

"We're going to be collecting as much evidence as possible to determine if this is an environmental crime," Ana Maria Aldana, a Chilean prosecutor for environmental crimes, told state television.

An official at Colbun declined to comment. A spokesman for Endesa said the company was aware of the issue and would issue a statement later.

Chile's energy-intensive mining industry is clamoring for more power. Some analysts say the country must triple its capacity in 15 years, despite having no domestic oil or natural gas.

Chile imports 97 percent of its fossil fuels and depends largely on hydropower for electricity, creating a crisis when droughts drain reservoirs or far-away disputes affect fuel imports.

Most Chileans oppose plans to develop a project to power central Chile by damming Patagonian rivers, fearing environmental damage. The HidroAysen venture is 51 percent owned by Endesa and 49 percent owned by Colbun. Some protests against the project have turned violent.

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Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao

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