Hinds, Sinanan: No oil-spill cover-up

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Fitzgerald Hinds –

NATIONAL Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds says investigations into all aspects of the February 7 oil spill off the south-western coast of Tobago are underway.

Those investigations include locating the owners of the tug boat Solo Creed which was reportedly towing the barge Gulfstream to Guyana.

The capsized vessel off Tobago has been identified as the Gulfstream.

Hinds made the comments in a television interview on Thursday.

He said those investigations include trying to locate the Solo Creed and identify its owners.

Hinds was satisfied with the progress of the investigations into the oil spill.

“These things are coming together very nicely.”

Hinds promised that the public would be informed about the outcome of those investigations as they had been about all aspects of the response to the spill, to date.

Farley Augustine –

“As soon as we come to conclusions on them, we continue to share information.”

He promised that once the investigations were concluded, their results would be shared with the public.

Hinds referred to a statement issued by his ministry on Wednesday which said the Coast Guard confirmed the Solo Creed was towing the Gulfstream from Panama to Guyana.

Satellite imagery showed the Solo Creed towing the Gulfstream on February 4.

The National Coastal Surveillance Radar Centre (NCSRC) was able to use this information to track the Solo Creed in TT waters.

The NCSRC eventually lost radar contact with both vessels. The Coast Guard confirmed that neither the Solo Creed nor the Gulfstream arrived in Guyana.

Hinds recalled that the Gulfstream was first discovered off the coast of Tobago on February 7.

At that time, he continued, no one knew whether the barge had any crew or cargo on board.

Hinds said the investigations to determine the origin of the Gulfstream began immediately after its discovery.

Those investigations, he continued, included collaborations with the Guyana Coast Guard and the regional security organisation, Caricom Impacs.

In its statement, the ministry said Caricom Impacs contacted authorities in Panama and Aruba, for photographs of the tug boat and the barge.

Dutch authorities in Aruba, provided images of the tug towing the barge.

These images were used to confirm the identity of both vessels.

Checks on Vesselfinder.com showed the Solo Creed being a Tanzanian registered vessel.

The Solo Creed arrived at Cristobal, Panama on January 3 and remained there until January 12.

After leaving Panama, its next port of call was Aruba on January 20.

According to information on tanker.trackers.com, the Gulfstream was reportedly seen in Pozuelo Bay, Venezuela during the last week of January.

A post on this website claimed the barge had more than 350,000 barrels of fuel oil on board.

A photo posted on the website said satellite imagery showed the Solo Creed at sea on January 18, towing the Gulfstream.

Another photo on the website said on February 6, satellite imagery showed the Solo Creed and the Gulfstream 16 nautical miles south of Tobago.

Tanker.trackers.com claimed the spill happened there.

“Barge probably washed up and capsized overnight. There may have been choppy waters.”

Vesselfinders.com had no information on the Solo Creed’s destination.

On February 4, Vesselfinders put the tug’s last known location as in the Caribbean Sea, northeast of San Juan de Unare in Venezuela, travelling at a speed of 5.8 km.

Infomation about the Gulfstream on tanker.trackers has its operating status as “decommissioned or lost.”

The barge was reportedly built in Busan, South Korea in 1975 and has been classified under different names.

These include Magic Lady and Timur Star.

While investigations into the spill are ongoing, Hinds advised the public to ignore speculation from non-official and uninformed sources about the cause of the oil spill.

“The situation is not devoid for the potential for bacchanal and ole talk.”

To support his argument, Hinds said Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Farley Augustine praised the Coast Guard for their response to the spill but former a reporter claiming to represent a group on the island, contradicted Augustine.

Hinds said Government, THA, several local, regional and international entities were collaborating closely to address the spill.

He said all parties had a full understanding of the risk posed by the oil spill from the Gulfstream and the need “to take action to ameliorate those risks.”

Hinds was aware of two nations outside of the region that offered help.

“I am aware that the Brazilians have offered us some help in the event that we need it.”

Hinds was satisfied with the response by all parties to the spill to date.

“So the matter is so far, well under control and being managed in a sensible and professional manner.”

He said, “I can tell you that today, based on the release that I would have issued yesterday, we are in a far better position to understanding what happened, how it happened, an idea to where it happened.”

Hinds did not comment on statements made by Augustine about the spill at a news conference in Scarborough on Wednesday.

The Prime Minister and Energy Minister Stuart Young were unavailable to respond to Augustine’ statements.

But Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan did.

In a statement, Sinanan rejected Augustine’s claims of a cover up with respect to the oil spill.

“I wish to categorically debunk the statement that information has been withheld from the THA and by extension, the Chief Secretary.”

Sinanan said he shared Augustine’s frustration that the rightful perpetrators must be held accountable for the oil spill which was an environmental and economic challenge for TT.

Rohan Sinanan –

“Certainly, the magnitude of this incident requires a united approach to ensure that this situation is well-managed in the best interest of the citizens of TT.”

Sinanan said there must be full verification of information before making unwarranted statements.

“In this context, statements attributed to the Chief Secretary regarding a WhatsApp message and subsequent conclusions do not allow for the conducting of an investigation free from bias and innuendo.”

Sinanan outlined the known facts about the spill.

These included the spill happening on February 7, Government immediately reaching out through various channels to the THA to offer help, Young and Sinanan visiting Tobago on February 9 to hold talks with Augustine and Sinanan returning on February 11 and 14 to ensure that all necessary help was being provided to the THA.

Sinanan said he and other government ministers had been in daily contact with Augustine.

On Wednesday, Augustine called for the people responsible for the spill to come clean.

“You really took that long to come forward and take ownership of this? This is your vessel and you have not come forward and arrived to Tobago as yet to sit with the people who have been part of this clean-up.”

Augustine claimed to have received a Whatsapp message which alleged the owner of the Solo Creed was interested in the defunct Petrotrin refinery in Pt Fortin.

That refinery was shut down in 1994.

Augustine said, “We have a lot of questions. So now is the best time to have those questions answered because, for starters, we need to know the quantity of material so we know what we have been dealing with, what we have been walking in, what we have been swimming in, what we have been trying to clean-up from our shores.

“I want to know how much they would pay for this.”

At a news conference in Scarborough on February 11, Dr Rowley underscored Government’s commitment to addressing the oil spill.

“Whatever is required to do what needs to be done would not have been budgeted for the THA. This is a national emergency, and therefore, it will have to be funded as an extraordinary expense. You’ve got to find the money and prioritise. This is a priority because we have to respond, and we don’t know the full scope and scale of what is going to be required.”

Rowley toured areas affected by the spill earlier that day. Young and Sinanan accompanied him on that tour.