Tobago Oil Spill: Farley wants Answers

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IT took one week to identify that there were two vessels involved in the oil spill just off the waters of Tobago.

And now the Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly Farley Augustine said he wants the owners to take responsibility for the clean up operations.

He has also suggested that the government withheld critical information it had on the vessel early on and was demanding answers.

On Wednesday the Ministry of National Security stated that the overturned barge was being towed by a tug called Solo Creed that was en route to Guyana from Panama.

The release stated, “In recent days, a spill of black, oily deposits was identified in the waters spreading from the Scarborough area to Lowlands in Tobago, posing a serious threat to Tobago’s biodiversity. The spill appeared to be emanating from a wrecked barge, which was discovered lodged on a reef in the vicinity. The TTCG is also examining video footage supplied by the GCG of the barge, as it appeared to be sinking.

“The TTCG is using certain distinctive markings of the barge, to confirm its identity. The TTCG has also confirmed that the barge was being towed by a tug, the Solo Creed, from Panama, destined for Guyana. Satellite imagery also shows the Solo Creed towing an object on the 4th of February 2024.”

At a press conference on Wednesday, Augustine said, “So you took that long to come forward and take ownership of this. This is your vessel, and you have not arrived in Tobago yet to sit with the people who have been part of this clean-up?

“We have a lot of questions, and now is the best time to have those questions answered. We need to know the quantity and the material you were transporting, so we know what we have been dealing with, what we have been walking in, what we have been swimming in, what we have been trying to clean up from our shores.”

He added, “I want to know how much they would pay for this. You recognised that the tow cable was broken. You see it on all sorts of global news, and it took you this long to really come forward. We could have avoided so much, and even as we speak and contain the hydrocarbon in that area, the vessel continues to leak the substance.”

Augustine said, “We were able to save our paradise because this situation should not result in a paradise lost, certainly not for Tobago. We need those responsible to come clean, and we need those responsible to know that they have to pay for this mess.”

He said he received other information on his phone on Tuesday night.

Augustine said, “The WhatsApp message I got last night was that they were carrying 5,000 metric tonnes of fuel. Is that true? It also said the owner of this vessel is actually one of those trying to purchase the refinery down in Point Fortin. Is that true?”

Asked if he was insinuating that the refinery deal may be linked to incident, Augustine said, “I tend not to operate in the world of speculation, I tend to operate with just the facts. I have laid out the facts as I have them, and I have also pointed out the obvious coincidence of me receiving information and someone asking me to look into this vessel.

“Then today, I see a press release confirming the data. Because there is some correlation, I am duty-bound, on behalf of Tobago, to ask those questions pointedly and openly.”

The results of oil samples taken by the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) were still outstanding and Augustine said the international company Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL), of which Trinidad and Tobago is a member, has a team in Tobago at no cost to the government. 

The team began assessing the quality control of all affected areas soon after arriving on Monday night, he said.

Augustine said Tobago had not yet upgraded to a tier two level disaster.

Meanwhile satellite imagery shows that the slick was about 144 kilometres in length and was heading west between Grenada and Venezuela.

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