Energy Minister: Capsized barge was heading to Guyana

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A backhoe helps in the clean-up exercise in Scarborough on February 11 after an oil spill affected the coastline. – Photo by Jaydn Sebro

ENERGY Minister Stuart Young said on Friday the oil-spill now affecting the Tobago coast emanated from a barge under tow to Guyana.

He was speaking in the House of Representatives on a debate on a definite matter of urgent public importance. He said lab tests had said the fuel was likely to be bunker C fuel, not crude oil. Bunker C fuel or fuel oil is usually used by marine vessels. It is the residual oil left over after gasoline, diesel, natural gas are distilled out of the crude oil.

“This bunker C fuel was on its way to Guyana. It seems to have stopped off in Aruba which is a source of possible fuel and the satellite imagery has picked up that this vessel was being towed.”

He said containment has been tried by the use of booms, using Woodside’s (formerly BHP Billiton) service provider Kaizen Environmental Services.

Young said in undertaking this, there existed a danger of worsening the leak by careless handing of the cracked vessel.

He said upon news of the spill, he and the Minister of Works and Transport had promptly contacted the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) to offer assistance, and had then visited Tobago.

“My friends on the other side want to paint this false picture that someone can wave a magic wand and suddenly resources arrive immediately on the scene,” he said.

“All resources that were available were immediately deployed to Tobago.

He said there was no cover-up, and no reason to do so.

Young said his ministry had staff in Tobago from early on.

While saying it was not Venezuelan oil, he said talks regarding assistance had been held with Venezuelan oil firm PDVSA, Brazilian oil firm Petrobras, international oil firms operating in Trinidad and Tobago, and Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA).

While booms have been placed around to try to help, he lamented the ship’s owners have not come forward to assist against the leakage by presenting the ship’s schematics to the Government.

He said the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan is in operation.

Young accused the Opposition of trying to politicise the issue, instead of making good suggestions. “I would gladly get all our friends from the UNC onto a flight to Tobago this evening. Let them swim out to the vessel. They seem to want to tell the country there is something that they can do that is not being done.”

Experts were working on a plan to retrieve the remaining fuel from the vessel. “The last thing you want to do in an operation such as that is create an even worse situation.”

He said the oil-spill would not supply any political lifeline to the Opposition.

“They are already sinking. They don’t even need a reef to be sinking on.”