Young: Search ongoing for oil-spill vessel owners

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Energy Minister Stuart Young. – File photo

ENERGY Minister Stuart Young says efforts to find the owners of the vessels involved in the Tobago oil spill are ongoing.

He made this comment in the House of Representatives on April 12 as he gave an update on the clean-up.

The spill happened on February 7. The vessels involved are reportedly the tug boat Solo Creed and the barge Gulfstream, which overturned on a reef off the southwest coast of Tobago.

Couva South MP Rudranath Indarsingh asked whether the owners of the vessels had been identified.

Young said, “That exercise and the confirmation of the owners continues to be pursued by the Ministry of Works and Transport, in particular the Maritime Division, utilising international resources.”

Those efforts, he continued, were being supported by the Foreign and Caricom Affairs Ministry.

Young said this ministry “has been writing to various countries to ascertain and to obtain documentation to support the ownership, the finding of the ownership of these vessels.”

Responding to a question in the House of Representatives on March 6, the Prime Minister said, “To date, whilst there have been documents and information that indicate connections with the vessel, the confirmation of ownership has so far not been had to the satisfaction of the Government.”

Dr Rowley added that legal action against the owners remains an option available to the Government.

Should this option be exercised, Rowley said, “The Government must be satisfied that we have pertinent and credible information as to who the perpetrators are and where liability lies.”

Rowley said efforts to identify the owners of the vessels included communication between the Foreign and Caricom Affairs Ministry and Panama, Aruba, Guyana, the International Maritime Organisation and maritime divisions of other countries, including some in West Africa, where the tug could be registered.

Rowley said the division “has also engaged a private satellite company to assist in satellite imagery of where the vessel originated and travelled from on its journey before the vessel tragically ended up on a reef in Tobago.”

Indarsingh asked Young if there was a final figure for expenditure by Government on the oil-spill clean-up.

Young replied, “At this stage, the answer to that is no. It is an ongoing operation and the expenses are being tabulated to then be taken to the Cabinet.”

He also gave MPs an update on the status of the ongoing clean-up and efforts to salvage the overturned barge.

On the former, Young said the ministry had engaged Heritage Petroleum Ltd on February 9 to provide technical support in managing the incident.

The company, he said, engaged 47 personnel to assist other agencies dealing with the oil-spill response.

Heritage’s responsibilities included the clean-up of eight areas on the shore, from the Scarborough waterfront to the Thomson River.

Young said most of the oil in these areas had been removed and the company is downscaling its onsite personnel and equipment.

“A joint assessment of these areas to identify the end points is under way.”

He said this will determine “completeness of the clean-up activities and is being done by a committee which includes representatives of TEMA (Tobago Emergency Management Agency), the Ministry of Energy, International Ocean Tankers Federation Ltd, Oil Spill Response Ltd and the All Fisherfolk Association of Tobago.

Young said the ministry had retained the services TT Salvage Inc and QT Environmental Services Inc, and both had the international experience to do survey and sampling activities, remove the barge’s remaining liquid inventory and refloat it.

“As of April 8, 2024, survey and sampling activities have been completed and operations to de-inventory the vessel are under way,” Young said. “These operations including breaching the double hull of the vessel to access the vessel’s cargo tanks and setting up an onshore temporary storage facility to offtake the vessel’s remaining inventory.”

This was due to be completed on April 11.

“Following this, pumping the vessel’s inventory will follow.”

He added this exercise will take approximately 30 days.

“The latest estimates are that a total of 34,000 barrels (of liquid) is still on board.”