Chief Sec: I believe tier-three oil-spill response in effect in Tobago

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine looks on at the work being done at Petit Trou beach Lambeau, Tobago during a tour of areas affected by the oil spill on February 20. – Photo by Jaydn Sebro

ALTHOUGH it has not been officially declared, THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine says a tier-three operation is already in effect in Tobago in response to the oil spill offshore.

The oil spill comes from a leaking overturned, abandoned boat first observed off southwest Tobago on February 7. A national emergency was later declared as a result.

At the post-executive council media briefing on February 28 at the Shaw Park Cultural Complex, Augustine said the national oil spill plan stipulates that a tier-three announcement should come from central government, on the advice of the Minister of Energy.

But he believes, given the number of international companies involved in the containment and eradication process so far, “We are in tier three at this time.”

Augustine explained, “In my mind, given the way we are operating, and we have all of these international agencies here, including international companies, and we are having reports that what was washed up on the shores of Bonaire (in the Netherlands Antilles) might be the same product.

“Given all of that, I am of the view that we are already in tier three. As far as I am concerned, this is a tier-three arrangement.

“Given that we have had to draw on the resources of international partners, given that we have international partners coming in to do the quality assurance mechanism to help us get it right, given that we have had to have international companies such as T&T Salvage here – so while the declaration was not officially made, as far as I am concerned, our operation is in tier three at this time.”

Augustine said the THA welcomes the international assistance.“It is not just about cleaning the spill, but there must be remediation in several areas, such as the Magdalena (Grand Beach & Golf Resort) where the beach was already going away, based on climate change and rising sea levels.”

Augustine also gave an update on attempts to salvage the Gulfstream from off the coast of Canoe Bay. The Ministry of Energy has retained an international company, T&T Salvage, to do this.

He said no fuel has leaked from the vessel in the past few days.

“Capping may not be needed at this time, because the reports we received at our last briefing is that we have not had a leak for some days.”

Augustine said this does not mean all of the “fuel-like” substance from the vessel has surfaced.

“Because the nature of this barge, as it was identified, (it) may very well have other compartments that may not have been compromised, that have not leaked out as yet.”

He said that was why T&T Salvage “is doing the kind of surveillance work which will tell us if there is more…trapped inside of the vessel. The investigation is on its way by T&T Salvage and I am certain in the coming days we will get some answers from them in terms of what else is contained there.”Augustine said if there is more fuel in the vessel, “Some hot tapping will be done to extract it without it having to leak out, and then we take it, so to speak.”

In the meantime, he said, attempts are being made to mop up the fuel in the sea.

“We are also actively trying to ensure that we prevent any of the substances from going around the southwestern coastline.”

Augustine said although the currents tend to push the fuel northwest and away from the island, “We are still doing active monitoring to ensure that the sensitive areas past Kilgwyn, past Sandy Point, that those areas are not impacted in any way.”

He said a boom has been placed alongside the Sandy Point jetty as a precautionary measure.

“That is us being extra cautious, just to be sure that nothing passes that way and goes on the other side.”