Farley: No final cost yet for oil spill clean-up

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

This photo, taken in February, shows the shoreline at Canoe Bay covered with oil which leaked from the wrecked barge, the Gulfstream. – FILE PHOTO

TOBAGO House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Farley Augustine said on Thursday only seven out of 12 storage compartments have been drilled to capture oil on the leaking Gulfstream barge that has polluted Tobago’s coastal waters.

He spoke to reporters at the funeral for former chief justice, the late Michael de la Bastide, at the Church of the Assumption, Maraval.

Augustine said the shipping of that oil was an illegal act, intended to be surreptitious.

“The oil spill clean-up is moving quite vigorously along. We are returning functionality to some public spaces, but we are not finished as yet.

“Still locked into the vessel might be about 20,000 barrels.”

The focus now was to pump it out and remove it, he said.

This exercise entailed drilling into 12 compartments, he explained.

“The firm TT Salvage that was brought to me by the Ministry of Energy has so far drilled seven holes, but there are 12 compartments.”

He said the compartments were doubled-hulled.

“You are drilling through one layer and then drilling through another layer to get to the oil and then a third hole to get into that compartment.

“It is delicate work. It is also tricky work because the surface currents in the area are quite difficult to manage. So safety is of paramount concern even as we do this.”

He said the financial cost of the oil leak continued to be a moving target.

“If we still have fuel in the vessel to be extracted and still have chambers on the vessel that have not been extracted yet, that will tell you that it is quite difficult to pin that cost down.

“We are looking, from the THA’s perspective, to see if we can begin treating with some of those (compensation) payments on our own, anticipating as the PM promised that the Government will make the necessary allocations available.”

Augustine said the Government has been unable to find the barge’s owner.

“But certainly, we can say firmly that this was an illegal operation of sorts.

“Certainly from the information I have received, this operation was meant to be disguised and it will be interesting to discover who really was behind it, who this fuel was going to, and for what purpose.”

He was keen to establish the oil shipment’s DNA or fingerprint to discover its origin.

Asked about a reshuffle of the THA’s elected secretaries, he merely said that matter was still “in my mind.”

The THA head said he was waiting to see what would be the final bill for Jaric Titans football club’s recent trip to the UK.

The group, including 100 children and 55 adults, went to the UK to participate in a football event but were unable to pay for their accommodation.

Augustine said he had met Jaric Titans coach Brian Browne, who had said he was seeking $1 million in donations to fund the trip on top of about $1 million already paid.

Augustine said, “The chief administrator and myself met with him on Monday. We are still awaiting some additional information from Eurosport before we can take any action.

“We had conversations about logistics, planning and how the government system works if you need assistance.” He said the THA had only received the request for help on March 8.

“I had only known about the matter one week before they departed.

“So we went through all of those and what is the THA’s policy in terms of how we give that assistance.

“But in the meantime, we are awaiting some additional information from Eurosport – in terms of what is outstanding on their bills and so on – before we could do an adequate assessment and then a final decision in terms of what sort of assistance we can give.”

Otherwise, he said he expected in due course to be absolved of the “audio gate affair” where a man and a woman last August were heard on tape planning a PR/propaganda campaign that critics allege would involve THA public funds.