British Virgin Islands

Saturday, Nov 28, 2020

Caribbean threatened by 1.3M barrels of oil from sinking oil tanker

Caribbean threatened by 1.3M barrels of oil from sinking oil tanker

A state of environmental emergency is being called for by fishermen in Trinidad and Tobago over a sinking oil tanker with 1.3 million barrels of oil.
If the oil spills, it would threaten the entire Southern Caribbean. At 264 meters in length and a capacity of 1.4 million barrels, the spill would be five times worse than the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989, which was the worst in history until the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon.

Officials have been criticized for allowing the situation to evolve for three months without taking sufficient action. The Nabarima is a Venezuelan oil tanker but part-operated by Italian energy giant, $55 billion ENI, and has been caught up in US sanctions since disputed elections questioned the legitimacy of the Venezuelan President. The tilting had been of concern since it was first noticed in July and crews later discovered water leaking on board. The situation has gotten progressively worse since then.

It was only last week that a representative of the fishing community in Trinidad, Gary Aboud, was able to get close enough to the heavily listing Venezuelan oil tanker to show first hand how serious the risk is, especially with the Caribbean in a particularly active 2020 hurricane season that is only due to end by November 30.

Combined with drone footage to show the angle of tilting, his two and a half minute video (link below) shows the risk that poor weather would have on the tanker, and what he highlights as a lack of urgency by the Trinidad and Tobago Government or the international community to act.

With the oil spill in Mauritius in August, it was the UN shipping regulator, the International Maritime Organization, who sent representatives to co-ordinate the Wakashio oil spill efforts for the United Nations but they were widely seen to have exacerbated the oil spill crisis. Ironically, the news from the Caribbean comes as the IMO is debating oil and emission targets for ships in London this week, amid criticism that environmental standards are being watered down by this UN agency.

Gary Aboud, Corporate Secretary of Trinidad and Tobago based environmental group, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea, went to the site of the Nabarima, moored in Venezuelan waters, to highlight the risk posed to the over 50,000 fishermen of Trinidad and Tobago that rely on the sea, the potential long term ecological harm to species in this coral reef and biodiversity rich region, as well as the broader regional risk to the Caribbean given the direction of the currents and wind at this time of year.

Reports from the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian had been calling for action since early September.

According to a spokesperson for Trinidad and Tobago’s Energy Minister, Franklin Khan, who spoke to the Guardian on September 4, “The [Trinidad and Tobago] Energy Ministry through the Venezuelan Embassy has offered any assistance, technical or logistical to the Government of Venezuela that it may require. Also, the Minister of Energy is in contact with his Venezuelan counterpart for further updates as they become available.”

An emotional video by Gary Aboud first posted on September 7, six weeks ago, had highlighted the growing risk of the tilting oil tanker, combined with the ongoing hurricane season - the second most active on record.
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