Fishermen and Friends: Tobago oil spill could get worse

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A drone photo taken on February 8 shows the extent of the damage caused to the coast of Scarborough, Tobago. – Photo courtesy Dayreon Mitchell

Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) say the origin and purpose of the overturned vessel in Tobago must be identified quickly.

In a media release on February 13, FFOS said the country remains in the dark about the situation, almost a week since the vessel was found leaking an oily substance 200m off the coast of the Cove Eco-Industrial and Business Park.

FFOS said, “According to the Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), booms have been successfully deployed in the vicinity of the leaking Gulfstream vessel, but isn’t more oil still leaking from the vessel?

“It’s critical at this stage that we determine how much more oil will be leaked to determine if the booms will contain it.”

FFOS speculated that the substance being leaked into the ocean could be crude oil and warned about the devastating impact on the environment and people’s livelihoods.

“The thick oil-like substance observed appears to be an unrefined crude oil, suggesting that the Gulfstream is either a tanker or a floating storage and offloading vessel…

“Based on this Gulfstream length, which is estimated to be between 300 to 560 feet, and to be conservative, if it was half-filled, we estimate that it could contain between 150,000 to 350,000 barrels of crude oil.”

FFOS said the name of the vessel and its measurement will help identify its owner.

“Worldwide, there are many Gulfstream-named vessels. Most are of different lengths and uses. If the TT investigating team measures the length and width of the vessel, this would be the first step to identifying the model of this vessel and/or confirming whether it’s a freight vessel or a tanker and would narrow down an International Maritime Organisation search of the possible owner/s.

“Secondly, and much easier, since this vessel sails under a St Kitts and Nevis flag of convenience, why haven’t our team already contacted the St Kitts and Nevis authorities to reveal the owner’s names and all details of the capacity and use of this vessel? Certainly, they should have records of what this Gulfstream is equipped to do. Or do they? And if not, why not?”

FFOS also called for more skimmers to be used in the clean-up operations.

“According to the 2014 National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP), Petrotrin owned three vacuum skimmers and five other types of skimmers. Where are these skimmers today? BpTT has three rope skimmers, and BHP has three skimmers. Why haven’t these skimmers been immediately deployed? Now the oil is spreading northwest!”

A release by TEMA on Monday noted that the oil slick measures 48 nautical miles (approximately 88km) in length and 0.13 nautical miles (approximately 248m) in width.

“The spill extends from the west to the northwest into the Caribbean Sea, with noticeable oil weathering beginning around 9.71 nautical miles (approximately 18km) from the source,” TEMA said.

FFOS said the vessel drifting undetected into TT’s marine space is an indictment on our border patrols and needs to be addressed.

“Does it mean that any vessel can enter our border and carry any substance… undetected?” it asked.

After one family temporarily relocated… Lambeau residents want answers on oil spill

Residents of Lambeau who live close to the coast are calling for the investigation into last week’s oil spill to be concluded and the area cleaned and restored to normalcy as soon as possible.

The spill emanated from a mystery vessel that was found overturned in the sea some 200 metres off the coast of the Cove Eco-Industrial Park around 7.20 am.

Clean-up operations have been ongoing, with central government getting involved, the expertise of private companies utilised, environmental stakeholders brought in, and volunteers recruited.

Booms have been used to contain the oil spill and keep operations at the Scarborough Port unaffected.

Newsday visited Lambeau on Monday and unlike a few days ago, the odour of the spill was not evident.

One resident who spoke anonymously said the scent had subsided by then.

“On Wednesday when the incident had just happened, you couldn’t even stay in the area – the stench was horrible.”

She said she was visited by her area representative, Wane Clarke.

“By Thursday, Friday, we didn’t have it so bad as compared to then, but it’s understandable based on what Mr Clarke told us. I really hope that they get to the bottom of this soon.”

Another resident, who gave his name only as Hiram, said he was aware of the incident on Wednesday when he came home from work and asked about the stench.

He said he had numerous questions about the incident.

“Whose boat, how long was it here; so many questions yet so little responses – definitely a mystery.”

A resident who only wanted to be identified as Phyllis said: “We just want an end to this issue. We’ve listened to both the chief secretary and the Prime Minister on the issue and we’re really glad that they could have come together on this, but we as residents – we just want an end.”

Clarke told Newsday that one family was temporarily relocated.

Secretary of Health, Wellness and Social Protection Dr Faith BYisrael urged the residents to be cautious.

“They should stay away from the site, wear a mask when in close proximity, and keep their windows and doors closed – if necessary. If they feel dizzy, nauseated or generally unwell… they should seek medical attention.”

She added: “The fact is that we have to get to identify exactly what the substance is, therefore, we encourage folks to be cautious – not fearful but cautious.”

At a news conference with the Chief Secretary last Saturday, the Prime Minister said they are waiting on the results of the sample to determine the content of the spilt cargo.

So far, he said, the authorities have not been able to determine if the oil-like substance leaking from the vessel is bunker fuel, fuel for preparation of the vessel or raw crude.

Dr Rowley said the identity of the vessel remains a mystery.

But he added that the central government will have to provide the THA with whatever support it needs.