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Fisherfolk call for Carmona to intervene
Members of the Fishing Association of the Gulf of Paria yesterday accused state-owned Petrotrin of withholding pertinent information from the public regarding recent oil spills along the southwestern peninsula. The group also called on President Anthony Carmona to intervene to reveal the “real effect” of the oil spills on human and marine life and to declare a state of emergency in the Gulf of Paria. On December 17, the first of 11 Petrotrin oil leaks was discovered.
The leaks allowed over 1,200 barrels of oil to flow into the sea, according to figures given by Petrotrin, blackening shore lines along the coast and threatening the livelihood of fishermen, as well as the health of residents. In a press conference 14 days after the first spill, Petrotrin, which contracted international experts Oil Spill Response Ltd, said the spills were under control. Petrotrin president Khalid Hassanali also said Thursday the spills could be a result of human interference.
At a press conference at Woodford Square, Port-of-Spain, yesterday, representatives of the fishing industry said Petrotrin was keeping information from fishermen and the nation on the oil spills. The group included Fishermen and Friends of the Sea secretary Gary Aboud, president of the La Brea Fisherfolk Association Alvin La Borde and environment engineer Cathal Healy-Singh, “Where are the air quality reports? Where are the toxicology reports? Where are the independent bodies verifying Petrotrin’s information?” asked Aboud.
The group called on President Carmona to intervene as it said government agencies had failed them. President of the Cocorite Fishing Association, Diane Christian-Simmons, raised the question of the silence from key agencies, such as the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) and the Environmental Management Authority (EMA). The EMA, which monitored the clean-up exercise, said three days ago it would serve Petrotrin with a notice of non-compliance with environmental regulations. The notice had not been served up to yesterday.
The IMA’s response focused on the source of the oil spills and determined that the oil was a Bunker C type fuel and not crude oil. “All government agencies have failed us. We are calling on our Head of State to intervene and save us,” said Christian-Simmons yesterday.
Aboud raised the issue of the health risks, saying people in south Trinidad were now afraid to buy fish. “Our citizens of T&T are eating from the Gulf of Paria. What is to become of the quality of the fish we are serving our citizens?” he asked.
Despite a low consumption of fish in south Trinidad, fishermen said yesterday the price of fish was rising. That, they said, was because of the oil spills and the start of a seismic survey. The group also reiterated calls to postpone the seismic survey, which is being done to determine the location and size of oil and gas reserves. Hassanali refused to comment on yesterday’s press conference but said if Petrotrin had discovered a problem with air quality, the company would have “dealt with it.”
He said the company had decided to facilitate daily media briefings in south Trinidad from next week and would answer questions then.
...also want seismic testing in Gulf stopped
Fisherfolk along the southwestern peninsula are calling on the state-run oil company Petrotrin to defer its seismic testing in the Gulf of Paria until the oil spills which have been ravaging the coastline for the past 19 days, are completely cleaned up. Yesterday, Otaheite fisherfolk took media personnel on a boat trip to see the seismic vessel, Sanco Star-Gibraltar Seismic, anchored in the Gulf of Paria off Cap de Ville, Point Fortin.
While the T&T Guardian was there, cables were being lowered from the vessel to the sea and pulled back up, indicating seismic testing was taking place. Alvin La Borde, president of the La Brea Fisherfolk Association, said fishermen were unhappy with Petrotrin’s decision to begin seismic blasting while the oil spills were still an active threat to marine life. “We have a disaster in the Gulf of Paria and now they begin seismic testing for the next five months,” he added.
La Borde contended that fishermen from Otaheite to Cedros were faced with a big challenge because of the survey. In 2006 PetroCanada did a seismic survey, he said, “and that lasted four months and the fish stock did not recover. We only now seeing the increase in the fish stock and we have been asking them to hold on the seismic testing.”
Additionally, La Borde contended that according to Environmental Management Authority (EMA) regulations, Petrotrin has to compensate fisherfolk before beginning such surveys. To date, he said, no compensation had been paid. La Borde said Petrotrin had offered $6,000 a month in compensation, since it said the fishing stock was not high. He said the company was using Ministry of Fisheries data which was not accurate, rather than data collated by fish vendors.
“All fisherfolk from Otaheite to Cedros reject it (Petrotrin’s offer). They need to sit and work out a reasonable compensation package for the five months of proposed testing,” La Borde said. The testing, he explained, involved laying cables in the seabed and sending seismic blasts to determine what areas would be best to drill for oil. These blasts, he said, would force fish to migrate.
La Borde added fisherfolk would have to keep their children home from school which was set to open on Monday, because they had no money. He said Petrotrin promised to make interim payments to the fishermen yesterday but none had been made. “The company does not seem to care anything about the residents and how they handle the oil,” he added.