Tobago Oil Spill Spreads Across Southeastern Caribbean Sea

oily beach Tobago

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago, February 16, 2024 (ENS) – At least two vessels were involved in an incident that is spilling gobs of black crude oil across a widening area of the Caribbean Sea off the coast of South America. Emanating from a capsized barge off Tobago’s southwest coast, the oil has fouled some of the pristine beaches that attract so many tourists to the tropical island, the country’s Coast Guard has confirmed.

The spill was discovered nine days ago, and Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Keith Rowley declared a national emergency on Sunday. But the leak has not yet been plugged, nor have the owner(s) of the vessels – a tug registered as “Solo Creed” and a barge named “Gulfstream” – been found.

The Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard has learned that the tug was towing the loaded barge to the South American country of Guyana when the towline broke, investigators believe.

Workers toil to clear Tobago’s white sand beaches of messy oil leaked from the barge “Gulfstream.” February 10, 2024 (Photo courtesy Tobago Emergency Management Agency)

The two-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago is situated off the northern edge of the South American mainland. The larger island, Trinidad, lies just 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) off the coast of Venezuela.

On the smaller island of Tobago, the main town, Scarborough, nearest to the spill, is some 290 km (180 miles) to the nearest Venezuelan town, Irapa. Tobago is only 130 kilometers (81 miles) south of the island nation of Grenada.

The spilled oil “…has now entered Grenada’s territorial waters,” Tobago’s Chief Secretary Farley Augustine said Friday, following a fly-over by Trinidad and Tobago’s Air Guard, which confirmed the distance the spill has gone.

Trinidad and Tobago’s National Security Ministry said investigations to date reveal that both vessels, traced from Panama, were said to be bound for Guyana on South America’s northern coast, but neither vessel arrived there.

New information emerged when, as part of the investigation, Caricom IMPACS contacted the authorities in Panama and Aruba for photographs of the tug and the barge.

The Dutch authorities in Aruba provided images of the tug towing the barge, and these images were used to confirm the identity of both vessels and the fact that the barge was being towed to Guyana, on South America’s northeastern coast.

The Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard confirmed that before it capsized and began leaking oil, the barge was being towed by a tug, the “Solo Creed” from Panama, headed for Guyana. Satellite imagery shows the “Solo Creed” towing an object on February 4. The National Coastal Surveillance Radar Centre used this information to track the vessels until the signal was lost.

capsized ship Tobago
The barge, “Gulfstream” leaking oil just off the southwest coast of the Caribbean island of Tobago. The leak continues and is spreading.  February 10, 2024 (Photo courtesy Tobago Emergency Management Agency)

“At this stage,” the Ministry of National Security said in a statement, “it is not known whether any lives have been lost in the incident.”

Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds said the government has been working closely with the Guyana Coast Guard and Caricom IMPACS to identify the owners of the two vessels.

But Chief Secretary Augustine is suggesting that the government may have withheld critical information it had on the vessel early on, he said during a news conference at the Stage in the Sea in Scarborough, Tobago on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley told Parliament today that the government is doing everything possible to prevent further damage and expense arising out of the tragedy.

He said that as new information comes to hand surrounding the vessels responsible for the oil spill in Tobago, the government is holding discussions with other jurisdictions, including Venezuela, regarding assistance.

“We have offers of help from major oil-handling nations, Brazil and Venezuela. The Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs is in contact through the established protocols and will continue to advance these discussions,” Rowley told Parliament today.

On Thursday, Venezuelan officials confirmed that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has expressed his willingness to collaborate with Trinidad and Tobago in managing the oil spill off Tobago’s southwestern coast.

Technical discussions between Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela have happened online during the last two days online. Venezuelan officials said they are interested in advising on containment and stabilisation of the oil and identifying the barge that caused the oil spill.

Featured image: Black crude oil from the capsized barge, “Gulfstream” has messed up many of Tobago’s formerly beautiful beaches. February 8, 2024 (Photo courtesy Tobago Emergency Management Agency)

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