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Petrotrin still can’t find leak source

Crews fight to stem spill flow
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Petrotrin employees continue clean-up operations along Queen’s Beach, La Brea, yesterday. PHOTO: TONY HOWELL

International oil-spill experts arrived in T&T last night to assist in a massive clean-up operation while state-owned Petrotrin still struggled to stem the flow of oil into the Gulf of Paria. As backhoes scraped the beachfront at La Brea yesterday, a stream of oil continued to flow towards the shore, leaving Petrotrin and clean-up contractor, Tiger Tank Trinidad, unable to assess when the job might be completed.



At Coffee Beach yesterday, a Petrotrin official said the company had yet to determine the origin of the spill, a prospect which means they could be cleaning oil for days to come. Speaking on condition of anonymity yesterday, he said: “It is hard to really give a percentage on how much work is still to be done because there is still a proliferation of oil coming to shore. “It has reduced but because it is the sea we are going to get movement of the crude from one point to the next. 


“Since I have been here, from Thursday to now, there has been significant improvement but I won’t say we have it under control. “We have moved contaminated oil and water and since Thursday to now and we have moved in excess of 120 barrels.” Last Thursday, the first of five leaks was discovered at Petrotrin Court at the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery. 



That leak has since been capped but CEO of the Office of Disaster Preparedness Management, Dr Stephen Ramroop, said an aerial survey of the Gulf of Paria had shown there was still oil in the water. In an interview yesterday, Ramroop estimated that with the assistance of US-based Oil Spill Response Ltd, the clean-up operation should be completed in six to eight weeks. Ramroop added: “Yesterday a helicopter reconnaissance saw some oil in the ocean but not much. Most of it is on the shore now. 


“The clean-up operation, therefore, is confined to most of the coast and of course we have most of the key stakeholders there. “The Institute of Marine Affairs is there and they are conducting biological and marine testing as well as the EMA, which is doing air-quality testing of samples.” 



Petrotrin has come in for heavy condemnation from the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union over the spills, with the union’s president general Ancel Roget saying management had failed to monitor its leased operators and must take blame for the environmental disaster. Contacted yesterday, Petrotrin president Khalid Hassanali said: “I don’t have any comment to make on that. The only comment I will make is that right now we are focusing on community clean-up, investigation and security.”


On whether he believed the leaks were acts of sabotage, he said the incidents needed to be investigated first. He referred all questions to the company’s corporate communication’s manager, Gillian Friday. 



Relocation plan scrapped

Yesterday, residents said several people had been hospitalised with respiratory illnesses caused by the toxic fumes but Ramroop said there were no plans to evacuate residents. Sixty-year-old Wayne James, who lives on the beachfront, said there were initial plans to house 25 affected families at the La Brea Community Centre while the clean-up was being done but many residents refused the temporary relocation.


Asked about the residents’ health, Ramroop said: “There were certain people who were prone to respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, wheezing, bronchitis and most of these conditions. “They have been identified and one person was taken to hospital with the aid of the Petrotrin ambulance as well as the regional health authority and they have been treated.” As a precaution, Petrotrin told residents not to ignite any flames and the company has been providing them with three daily meals.


Adding that they were executing good corporate social responsibility, the official said Tiger Tanks Trinidad was mandated to employ people from the area to assist in the clean-up.



No police enquiries
Despite Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar suggesting that Petrotrin was investigating whether the leaks were acts of sabotage, no reports have been made to the police. Assistant Commissioner of Police for southern and south western division Donald Denoon said no reports were made to any of the stations in the districts where the leaks were found.


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