Tobago Oil Spill: Clean up Operations Continue as PM to Tour Area

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By Prior Beharry

CLEAN up operations continue on Tobago’s Atlantic on Saturday after an unknown amount of oil is spilled from a capsized vessel off the island’s southeast coast.

The spill occurred just 16 kilometres off the waters of Cove Eco Industrial Park in Tobago from the tanker identified as the “Gulf Stream” first spotted on Wednesday morning.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley will tour the affected areas on Sunday and hold a press conference at 12.30 pm at the Office of the Prime Minister – Central Administrative Services Tobago (CAST), Orange Hill Road, Scarborough, a release stated on Saturday.

Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Farley Augustine said that 15 km of coastline has been affected with 1,000 volunteers helping with the clean up which is about to be declared a National Emergency.

He said, “Yes, we are going to move to a Tier Three level. We just need to get some things cleared tomorrow (Saturday) and then that announcement will be made, but all indications are we are heading in that direction. At this point, we are open to the assistance of anywhere.”

Augustine said the United Nations (UN) has reached out to offer assistance.

Divers were sent to the site of the wreckage. On Saturday, specialist divers will try to plug the leak with Augustine saying that the THA has received about US$150,000 in invoices so far.

A current was pushing the vessel to shore, Augustine said, adding, “while we are using booms, they will try to plug the leak and they are being sent by the Maritime Division. When they are through with that, then they will send other specialists to do the wrecking of the vessel. They will determine the best way to remove the vessel from the site because it cannot stay in that location.”

The island’s Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) indicated there were no signs of life on the vessel ‘Gulfstream’, without a defined registry, whose cargo is suspected to consist of sand and timber.

“So far there have been no visible signs of human life or human remains,” TEMA has said.

Government and Coast Guard sources still have no answers about whether there was any crew on board the vessel, where it was coming from or heading or what flag was on the ship.

One source said, “All of the Coast Guard efforts now are on the containment of the oil spill. Since we are looking at containment it will be some time before we look into the origins and where the vessel was coming from and going to.”

Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Farley Augustine speaks with Minister of Energy Stuart Young and Minister of Transport Rohan Sinanan on Friday. Photo: TEMA

A Government source said the Maritime Division was still working on gathering all the information about the vessel and its origins.

But photos circulating on social media show a ship named “Gulf Stream” from Bassettere. A check on noted a ship with the name “Gulfstream” classified as a Class A oil tanker with the vessel being out of range. There was no information on its call sign.

The website listed the vessel’s overall length as 171.08 metres with a width of 22.46 metres.

TEMA stated that the capsized vessel was just over 100 metres in length.

Ministers of Government Stuart Young and Rohan Sinanan went over to Tobago on Friday to ascertain the situation and lend technical support.

Young said,“We continue to offer our assistance and whatever assistance can be provided. I’ve also given the green light for Heritage Petroleum to provide assistance. 

“We have been consistently communicating with TEMA. TEMA and the THA have indicated that they are dealing with the matter and have the lead.”

Meanwhile, volunteers were busy since Thursday assisting with clean up operations as the island heads into the Carnival weekend with festivities that include dancing on the streets to music trucks.

The kiddies Carnival was cancelled in Tobago’s capital of Scarborough since the oil washed ashore on its coastline.

Meanwhile Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) has asked:

  1. How can a sunken abandoned ship be allowed to drift into our borders? Where is the Coast Guard? Are our radars functional?
  2. Has the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan been initiated to prevent the spreading of the hydrocarbon along Tobago’s coastline? Where are the booms? Is anything being done to save our fishery and our coastal communities?
  3. Have the EMA and IMA taken samples of the spilled oil to determine the culprits responsible for this hydrocarbon disaster?
  4. Will these culprits be charged for polluting our waters?

One of the largest oil spills in the world occurred in 1979.

Around 7 pm on July 19, 1979, two loaded Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) – the Atlantic Empress (carrying 276,000 tonnes of crude oil) and the Aegean Captain (carrying 200,000 tonnes of crude oil) – off Tobago.

Reports indicated that this was the fifth largest oil spill in the world with 287,000 metric tonnes of crude oil being dumped into the Caribbean Sea.

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