Tobago's tourism, fishing hit as oil slick spreads across Caribbean


  • World
  • Saturday, 17 Feb 2024

Workers of Oil Mop Environmental Services (OMES) suction oil from a spill at Lambeau Village river mouth, in Tobago Island, Trinidad and Tobago, February 16, 2024. REUTERS/Clement George Williams

SCARBOROUGH, Tobago (Reuters) -Nine days after a slick was first spotted by Trinidad and Tobago's Coast Guard, an oil leak from a capsized barge remains unplugged, according to first responders and authorities, prompting nations across the Caribbean to coordinate a response.

The spill has spread miles from Tobago's shore, the area first hit by the incident. Trinidad this week alerted neighbors Venezuela and Grenada on possible impact to their coasts.

The Caribbean Disaster Management Agency, dependent on regional group Caricom, has activated a contingency plan, the head of Tobago's Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), Allan Stewart, said on Friday.

A barge pulled by a tugboat caused the spill, but details of the incident remain unclear, including the type of petroleum leaking, the ship's intended destination, owner and if any members of the crew were lost.

By Thursday, the slick had reached about 144 km (89 miles) into the Caribbean Sea and was moving at a rate of 14 km (9 miles) per hour, authorities said.

"This looks like it will continue for a few weeks. I cannot simply sit down and do nothing," said Edwin Ramkisson, who makes a living fishing for snapper and salmon in Lowlands, on Tobago's Atlantic shore. "I need help cleaning my boat before moving to another port on the Caribbean side."

The barge is believed to have carried as much as 35,000 barrels of fuel oil, Tobago's officials have said. The spill has blackened the island's beaches, affecting wildlife and tourism.

Several beach and golf resorts in Tobago that typically receive foreign tourists have been forced to close access to the ocean. The nearby Scarborough cruise ship port is being protected from the spill by containment booms.

PRIORITY

Trinidad is considering declaring a Tier 3 emergency that would allow it to obtain foreign assistance to deal with the spill, Prime Minister Keith Rowley told Parliament on Friday.

First responders and volunteers in Tobago have so far collected about 2,000 barrels of oil, but the island is short of protective equipment for volunteers and crews, TEMA said.

The Trinitarian government's next task is to empty the vessel in a controlled operation. "The vessel is, as of now, still stuck on the reef at Cove and continues to pose a major threat as it continues to foul the coastline and surrounding seas," Rowley said.

The twin-island nation's government said the ship's origin was Panama and it was bound for Guyana. However, monitoring service TankerTrackers.com has said the barge-tugboat combo was seen in satellite photos near Venezuela's Puerto La Cruz refinery in late January, and it was headed to St. Vincent and Grenadines days before the spill.

Venezuela's oil minister Pedro Tellechea told reporters on Friday the vessel "has nothing to do" with state oil company PDVSA or Venezuela, but the country is collaborating with Trinidad's investigation including the oil's type.

Brazil also has offered help, Trinidad's government said. Grenada did not reply to a request for comment.

(Reoprting by Curtis Williams in Scarborough and Tibisay Romero in Yagua, Venezuela; Writing by Marianna Parraga; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Kirsten Donovan)

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