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Montevideo, February 29th 2024 - 15:36 UTC



Oil leak off Trinidad and Tobago causes national environmental emergency

Monday, February 12th 2024 - 09:57 UTC
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The ship's crew did not send any distress calls and remains unaccounted for. An illicit operation is not to be ruled out The ship's crew did not send any distress calls and remains unaccounted for. An illicit operation is not to be ruled out

An oil leak from an unflagged overturned ship named Gulfstream off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago has led Prime Minister Keith Rowley to declare Sunday a national emergency because the situation along some 15 km of coastline in Tobago is “not under control.” The mystery vessel capsized Wednesday off the coast of the Cove Eco-Industrial Park in southern Tobago, and currents have dragged the boat shoreward.

“Cleanup and restoration can only begin as soon as we get the situation under control, right now the situation is not under control,” the head of government of the oil-rich nation of 1.4 million people told reporters. Containment barriers have been extended for about 15 kilometers to allow vessels to reach the port of Scarborough, the capital of Tobago.

Hundreds of volunteers have been working since Thursday to contain the advance of the thick slick, which, in addition to affecting the delicate marine ecosystem, is causing losses to tourism. The environmental management agency identified damage to the reef and beaches of the Atlantic coast, on the eve of the Carnival holiday, crucial for this twin island of Trinidad, which lives off tourism.

Many resorts and hotels in Tobago, such as the state-owned Magdalena Grand, were affected. Due to the oil stain, authorities have asked tourists not to bathe in contaminated areas. The leak has damaged a reef and Atlantic beaches, and residents of the village of Lambeau have been advised to wear masks or temporarily relocate. In this scenario, a cruise ship carrying 3,000 people docked in Tobago on Sunday.

The Gulfstream's crew did not make any emergency calls and remains unaccounted for, it was also reported. ”We have not yet been able to identify the vessel by name, there may be some identifying features (...) even with the use of remotely operated vehicles we have not been successful in identifying a registration number,” said Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Clerk Farley Augustine alongside at the press conference. Augustine also said that divers were unable to plug the leak from the 100-meter vessel. State-owned Heritage Petroleum has also provided assistance and volunteers in beach cleanup, Augustine added.

“That ship we don't know who it belongs to. We have no idea where it came from and we don't know everything on it either,” said Rowley, who did not rule out that the vessel had been used in “illicit” operations. “We are not sure whether it is a cargo ship, an oil tanker, or a barge because only the keel of the ship is visible and its physical identifying features are in the water, where we cannot penetrate at the moment,” the prime minister added. Divers spotted the name “Gulfstream” on the craft's side and have identified a length of cable, possibly indicating it was in the process of being towed, Rowley said.

The Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) reported that there were no signs of life on the Gulfstream, whose cargo was initially believed to consist of sand and timber.

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