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Crackdown soon on abandoned vessels
People who have abandoned vessels in the Gulf of Paria soon will be receiving warning notices from the Maritime Services Division (MSD) to lay claim to them within 60 days or face charges. “The MSD is to serve notices on the owners of the vessels for the removal of same, failing which it will invoke its powers under the relevant legislation, including the Shipping Act, to ensure the removal of the vessels,” said Transport Minister Stephen Cadiz yesterday.
He was speaking at a media conference at the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, Tower D, Port-of-Spain Waterfront. The crackdown came the day after Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine said his ministry had been informed some of the wrecks were being used in an underground diesel export trade. Ramnarine said information received was that diesel tanks were in some of them.
Cadiz addressed journalists after a round-table meeting with stakeholders, including representatives of the Environment Ministry, the MSD, the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) and the Ministry of Energy and Energy Affairs. The MSD is also in the final stages of implementing a vessel transport management system (VTMS) to ensure active monitoring of vessels within T&T’s territorial waters. “Already, a private company is operating in the Gulf doing some removal,” Cadiz said.
He said there were 51 vessels in the Gulf classified as “submerged, abandoned or derelict” and those in a lay-up area, designated and monitored by the MSD. He said some of them may have been stolen and then abandoned or might have been used to temporarily store illegal drugs. The MSD would be coming with full force on the owners of those vessels, deemed a navigational and environmental hazard, Cadiz said. “We know some of the owners and we don’t know some. We have identified and tagged half of these vessels.”
Cadiz referred to the Tidewater boats in Chaguaramas, for instance, which were locally owned, but may have been bought by a salvage company. He also mentioned abandoned trawlers. He said legislation would be brought to Parliament to empower the MSD and the Shipping Act, which dates back to the 1800s and allowed owners to “park” their vessels in the Gulf, known internationally as a safe harbour. Vessels also have been abandoned in the port of Port-of-Spain, Claxton Bay, San Fernando and Cedros.
Cadiz said: “Government is in the process of amending the Shipping Act which will soon come to Cabinet and then Parliament before the end of this term. “T&T will no longer be a lay-up location. We will take out all stops under the Shipping Act to deal with this. People will no longer be able to bring vessels and park them here. They will need to go somewhere else. The VTMS will be keeping a close eye on this.”
He added: “There are also issues about ownership, who goes overboard, the rights to salvage. The Government just can’t go overboard and take action.” He said the EMA would do risk assessments before the vessels were removed in case they contained fuel or liquids which could pose a danger and would be removed in clusters, according to their geographical areas. Environment Minister Ganga Singh said the candle might cost more than the funeral but it was worth it to mitigate the negative environmental impact.
Cadiz said it was “not an inexpensive operation” and there was no budget for it as yet.
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