Capsized Ship Spills Oil Onto Tobago’s Secluded Beaches

capsized ship Tobago

SCARBOROUGH, Tobago, February 12, 2024 (ENS) – An abandoned vessel that capsized just 200 meters (656 feet) from the coast of Tobago’s new Cove Eco-Industrial Park has been leaking oil for days, and now some 10 kilometers (six miles) of the Caribbean island’s coastline is fouled with the oily mess.

Formally called the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the two-island nation is the southernmost island country in the Caribbean Sea.

With urgency, officials and volunteers on the smaller island of Tobago are cleaning up the oil spill as quickly as they can, but it is still spreading – affecting the nearshore waters and the coastline from Rockley Bay, where the inter-island ferry leaves Tobago’s main town, Scarborough, for Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, all the way to Canoe Bay near Tobago’s southwestern tip.

Trinidad and Tobago authorities say they first received reports that the 91 meter (300-foot)-long vessel had capsized on Wednesday, February 7. They had received no distress calls, and reported that an immediate search of the ship and surrounding area failed to turn up any members of the ship’s crew.

The Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard has launched a massive cleanup effort as the oil continues to wash ashore. The Tobago Emergency Management Agency, TEMA, the Environmental Management Authority, and other government agencies are coordinating this effort.

Although the government has yet to identify the owner of the capsized vessel, TEMA said in a statement that it believes the ship to be the “Gulf Stream,” and says the ship was carrying lumber and sand when it capsized.

Volunteers struggle to contain the oil spill leaking from an overturned ship near Tobago’s southwest coast, February 8, 2024 (Photo courtesy TEMA)

The vessel’s identity has not been confirmed as the leaking oil currently obscures the vessel’s registration number, TEMA said.

Divers sent to inspect the vessel came back with the news that a nearby reef was damaged and that parts of the ship’s superstructure were missing.

Divers have not been able to contain the leak and are trying to determine how to remove the remaining oil, said Farley Augustine, Leader of Tobago’s House of Assembly, who toured the area with Prime Minister Rowley on Sunday.

No crew members were found aboard the vessel, and officials believe that the ship may have been abandoned when it was sinking. The oil slick’s pattern suggests that waves pushed the ship into the cove from the south.

It was not immediately clear how much oil has spilled and how much remains in the vessel, nor is it clear what caused the vessel to overturn.

The Tobago Emergency Management Agency said it is deploying barriers to contain the damage.

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley in a televised news conference regarding the oil spill, February 12, 2024 (Screengrab from video courtesy Office of the Prime Minister)

Prime Minister Keith Rowley warned Sunday that “the situation is not under control.”

“This is a national emergency and therefore it will have to be funded as an extraordinary expense,” he said. “We don’t know the full scope and scale of what is going to be required,” the prime minister acknowledged.

Rowley revealed that several unidentified countries have offered to help, and discussions about this cooperation are ongoing.

“Cleaning and restoration can only seriously begin after we have brought the situation under control,” Rowley said. “Right now, the situation is not under control. But it appears to be under sufficient control that we think we can manage.”

The oil leak has been classified as a Tier II disaster by the Tobago authorities, meaning they have acknowledged that the spill requires national attention. They are considering elevating it to Tier III; enabling them to seek international assistance to resolve the issue.

Editor’s Note: Additional reporting by Fleetmon

Featured image: Overturned ship believed to be the “Gulf Stream” leaking oil near the pristine beaches of Tobago’s southwest coast. February 10, 2024 (Photo courtesy Tobago Emergency Management Agency)

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