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Oil spill near Trinidad and Tobago is now flowing to other regions prompting concerns

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley says situation ‘not under control’

Stuti Mishra
Thursday 15 February 2024 14:28 GMT
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Cleanup operation continues after ship’s oil spill triggers national emergency in Trinidad and Tobago

The massive oil spill that blackened Tobago’s beaches is now flowing to other regions, the country’s emergency team has warned, putting nearby countries on alert.

For a week, emergency teams from the Caribbean nation were working round the clock to clean up the 12km (7.46miles) spill off the coast of Tobago, which prompted a “national emergency”.

Keith Rowley, the prime minister of the twin-island nation, said on Tuesday the situation was “not under control” and the cleanup was expected to take longer.

While it was still unclear how much oil was left, the island’s emergency management agency (TEMA) said some leftover oil was now flowing in the opposite direction away from the Tobago shores.

Satellite images and models suggest that waves might have taken some of the spill into the Caribbean Sea past northern Venezuela, Reuters news agency reported.

This increases the risk that the oil impacts other beaches in Trinidad and Tobago that have coral reefs, and even other countries’ coasts, TEMA’s director Allan Stewart told Reuters.

“The satellite showed that some of it was moving into the Caribbean Sea, as well as some of the modeling,” Mr Stewart said, adding that an upcoming flight by Trinidad‘s Air Guard is expected to confirm the finding.

Cleanup operation continues after ship's oil spill triggers national emergency in Trinidad and Tobago (TEMA (Tobago Emergency Management Agency))

Venezuela’s foreign affairs ministry said on Wednesday on social media that the country was monitoring the spill and has initiated meetings with Trinidad‘s government to coordinate action.

Meanwhile, some mystery began to clear on the origins of the spill. Mr Rowley earlier said the government had “no idea where it [vessel] came from and we also don’t know all that it contains.”

On Wednesday, the National Security Ministry said in a release that at least two vessels allegedly bound for Guyana - a tugboat and a barge - were involved in an incident that led to the spill.

“The barge was being towed by a tug, the Solo Creed from Panama,” the ministry said, adding that it remains unknown whether any lives were lost in the incident.

Authorities in Panama, Aruba and Guyana have been contacted by Trinidad and regional group Caricom to gather information as part of the investigation.

The tugboat and the barge were identified in satellite pictures taken three days before the incident in the Caribbean Sea, reviewed by TankerTrackers.com. According to the monitoring service, the vessels were heading to St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The oil was initially spotted around four miles north of the barge near the Tobagonian town of Scarborough. So far, approximately one-third of the 15km of shoreline on Tobago’s Atlantic Ocean has been cleaned and the spill is increasingly under control, officials said.

Environmental officials said the spill has damaged a reef and Atlantic beaches, a dire sign for the islands’ environment and its tourism industry during the Carnival season.

Additional reporting by agencies

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