Tobago Spill: Leaking Boat may be Involved in illicit Activities

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By Prior Beharry

FIVE days after a ship overturned spewing an oil-like substance on the shore of the Caribbean island of Tobago, the vessel is yet to be identified and may have been involved in some illicit activity.

This was revealed by Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley at a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister – Central Administrative Services Tobago (CAST), Orange Hill Road, Scarborough, after touring the affected areas on Sunday.

Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Farley Augustine said remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) were unable to identify the International Marine Organization (IMO) number of the vessel while divers are going down to the site every day.

Dr Rowley said, “An unknown vessel has apparently drifted upside down into Tobago’s literal zone. That vessel, we don’t know who it belongs to. We have no idea where it came from and we also don’t know all that it contains. 

“What we do know, it appears to be broken having made contact here and is leaking some kind of hydrocarbon that is fouling the water and the coastline.

“That vessel could have come to us from any kind of operation, especially if the operation is illicit.”

He said due to the conditions around the vessel which is now drifting to shore the physical nature of the it is yet to be identified.

Dr Rowley said, “So we’re not sure if it’s a freighter, a tanker or a barge because only the keel of the vessel is visible and it’s identifying physical characteristics are in water that we can’t penetrate for the moment.”

The prime minister said the divers have also revealed that a length of cable was seen to be attached to the vessel meaning that it might have been towed for sometime.

Booms in the waters off Scarborough. Photo: TEMA

The leak was first sighted about 12 kilometers off Tobago’s southeastern coast and is slowly drifting towards the island on Wednesday morning.

Augustine said divers have determined that the leak could not be plugged by them. 

Dr Rowley said that the vessel has to be salvaged and the substance removed from it.

Divers initially found that a name on the vessel was “Gulfstream.”

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. It has no IMO number.

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

The Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) stated that the capsized vessel was just over 100 metres in length.

From left Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan, Minister of Energy Stuart Young, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, TEMA’s GIS Specialist Dayreon Mitchell, Chief Secretary Farley Augustine, and TEMA director Allan Stewart at an oil spill site. Photo: THA

It was was reported to be broken with its superstructure detached from the ship, possibly lying in the debris field.

Trinidad is providing assistance with energy company Woodside assisting with providing technical support, Minister of Energy Stuart Young said.

He said that BP, Trinidad and Tobago’s largest natural gas producer, will also provide larger ROVs.

State company Heritage Petroleum has also provided assistance and experienced volunteers on beach clean up who are providing on-the-job training to those in Tobago, Augustine said.

This the Carnival weekend, the main tourist festival, and a cruise ship of 3,000 docked in Tobago on Sunday. 

Augustine said mainly the Atlantic coast is affected by he spill and other beaches especially to the west and north of the island were open.

He admitted that beach clean up was proving a challenge with booms being placed around the a 15-kilometre area to allow cruise ships and the inter-island ferry to come into Tobago’s capital of Scarborough.

Augustine said that beach clean up 1,000 volunteers was now being made easier with large equipment being brought in from Trinidad. 

He admitted that the 24-inch booms were too small and 48 and 50 inches ones were to be deployed that will give better protection and prevent the oil-like substance from going over them.

Touring the affected areas

Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan said that essential items and equipment needed for the clean up were being given priority on the fast ferry from Trinidad.

Samples of the substance have been sent to the Institute of Marine Affairs for testing to determine its origin.

Farley warned “sightseers” about going into the contaminated areas and risking injury.

He advised the residents of Lambeau, the village most affected by the spill, to wear masks or temporary relocate.

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