Concerns are growing that an oil tanker carrying millions of gallons of oil could spill its load into the sea between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago, causing an ecological catastrophe.
The Venezuelan-flagged Nabarima has lain in the Gulf of Paria since last January when US sanctions on Venezuela made it illegal for companies that operate in the U.S. to trade with the country's state-owned oil company.
Trinidad and Tobago’s energy and foreign ministers both told the Miami Herald newspaper that a team would visit the vessel.
The Nabarima is carrying 1,3 million barrels of crude oil, according to Venezuelan politicians and green activist groups. With up to 80 million gallons of oil, a spill from the vessel could cause an ecological disaster: In the Exxon Valdes spill of 1989, one of the worst oil spills recorded, 11 million gallons were released covering an area twice the size of Rhode Island.
Venezuela has previously said the vessel is safe, but environment activists and politicians say new pictures show it is tilting at an increased rate.
The Nabarima is jointly owned by the Venezuelan state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and Eni, the Italian oil giant.
Lawmakers from the Venezuelan National Assembly, who tend to be critical of President Nicolás Maduro, called on the country's government to urgently unload oil from Nabarima to avoid a disaster and said the risk had increased alarmingly.
“As a result of the weight and tides the ship is perceived to be more inclined (listing) than what was reported last August,” said María Gabriela Hernández Del Castillo, president of the assembly's Environment Commission, in a press release.
The U.S. Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago raised its concerns over the vessel in a statement on Friday, warning that a spill could negatively impact not only the Venezuelan people but also those in nearby countries.
Venezuela has previously denied any problems with Nabarima. In September, the offshore executive director for Venezuela's state oil company, Pedro Figuera, said on Twitter that the Nabarima complied with environmental and operational standards.
He later dismissed reports that the ship was unsafe as lies and said it met the required standards despite the alleged information from pseudo experts on social networks.