Chief Secretary hails positive signs in oil-spill recovery

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

THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine said there are positive signs in Tobago’s oil-spill clean-up and recovery efforts.

Approximately 15 kilometres of Tobago’s coast was polluted by an overturned barge – the Gulfstream – which was found lodged on a reef near Cove since February 7. The barge was being towed from Panama to Guyana by a tugboat, the Solo Creed.

Bunker fuel, which had been leaking from the barge, has contaminated Tobago’s southwestern coast and forced the closure of schools, made the affected site a no-fishing zone, and damaged mangroves. The wind and currents have carried the spill to other countries such as Grenada and Bonaire.

At Monday’s THA briefing at the Shaw Park Complex in Scarborough, Augustine said on his way to the conference, he saw a clean-up team power-washing the bridges and roads.

“That to me is a positive sign – a positive sign that we’re getting there.

“You pass and you look at the seawater between Lambeau and here, it’s much, much clearer than it was – another very, very positive sign. We are moving quickly to that place where you’ll see functional use of some of the roadways and so on that are blocked at this time, so we are getting somewhere and we are very, very happy for that.”

He said that the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) has been doing random testing of fish being sold in Scarborough, Lambeau and Pigeon Point and the results have shown the fish in the public domain is safe for human consumption. Those tests, he said, would continue.

Director of the Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) Allan Stewart said over the past 72 hours, divers have confirmed that the Gulfstream vessel is no longer contaminating the water with hydrocarbons.

“I can report that there is no longer any oil emitting from the vessel. The T&T Salvage team, they have taken control over that process…

“In extension to that, we also have the NOFI ocean buster (a high-speed oil containment and recovery system) that has been in operation over the past three days or so. I was very moved when I saw the collection based on the technology that would have landed for this particular challenge that we had going forward.”

He said extraction of liquids in the vessel is the next step.

“They would have done a hydrographic survey of the area. They would have engaged architects that would allow you to understand the construct of that type of vessel. For those who may know what the vessel looks like, they are able to look at the chambers, as to how they are constructed, and determine whether or not there is additional cells in the vessel that oils can be extracted from.

“So it’s a very careful process. At this stage what they are doing is moving the hydrocarbons that are on the surface of the water. They are mopping it up and doing a fantastic job.”

Augustine revealed that the THA had set aside $15 million towards offsetting the cost.

“That is nowhere close to being able to pay for the entire operations…As you would imagine, this started as an emergency. Now that we are in the project phase of this, moving from it being an emergency to projectising it properly, we now have to begin to consider payments to those that are on the ground and have been working without payments to date.

“And so we have set aside $15 million to begin to treat with those expenses we expect to come in…then we have those in accounts dutifully doing their role, doing their part when it comes to looking at the invoices that they have been receiving – dutifully doing the checks and the balances so that payments can begin as soon as is possible.”

Stewart was hesitant to say how far along the clean-up is, saying it is still a marathon effort.