Young: Oil spill culprits search reaches Panama, Africa

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Energy Minister Stuart Young. – File photo

ENERGY Minister Stuart Young said the search for the culprits in the February 7 oil spill in Tobago waters has reached as far as Panama and Africa, replying to a listed question by Naparima MP Rodney Charles in the House of Representatives on May 13.

He said the oil spill originated from a non-propelled tank barge strongly suspected to be the Gulfstream, towed by a tugboat known as the Solo Creed.

“The barge, Gulfstream, was classed with the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) until December 31, 2018 but after that date no further registration details were available. It was also noted that it appeared that the vessel had not been re-classed or registered for a number of years.

“The Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard has been working in close collaboration with the Guyana Coast Guard, the Caribbean Community Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (Caricom Impacs) to assist in identifying the owner of the Solo Creed.”

The director of the Maritime Services Division (MSD) of the Ministry of Works and Transport has used the division’s resources and relationships, including contacting similar divisions in Caricom, Panama and Africa plus global intelligence consultants IR Consilium to identify the vessels and owner(s) involved in the oil spill in Tobago.

The division sent correspondence to Panama and Tanzania seeking any relevant information about the two vessels.

Since being contacted by a Nigerian lawyer representing the purported owner of the tug and barge, the division was scrutinizing the validity of the claims including contacting the Nigerian Government.

“However, at this time, there is reasonable suspicion related to this particular claim and correspondence.”

Despite great efforts, to date all of these searches have failed to locate the tug Solo Creed, which has not re-activated its automatic identification system since the date of the incident, seemingly having fled the scene. No definitive information has been discovered on the ownership of the barge Gulfstream.

The MSD has also written to the International Marine Organization (IMO) seeking a consultant to assist with the investigation. and the IMO said it is actively engaged to identify one.

“It is the intention of the Trinidad and Tobago government to take legal action against the owner of the barge Gulfstream and/or the owner of the tug Solo Creed under the applicable Trinidad and Tobago legislation.

“Trinidad and Tobago made recent submissions to the International Oil and Pollution Compensation Fund in London but it became apparent that a global network of rogue vessels was attempting to operate outside the law and international obligations ­­­­– allegedly similar to how the Solo Creed and Gulfstream operated – where it is very difficult to ascertain who is legally responsible for the vessels.

“The Government continues to use its relationships and resources including, an independent satellite provider to attempt to ascertain the owner(s) of these vessels.”