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Drama at oil leak protest

Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Akemo Cobom leads Silk Cotton Road, Marabella residents during a protest outside Petrotrin’s headquarters in Pointe-a-Pierre yesterday.

A Marabella man and two children fell ill and had to be taken away by ambulance yesterday during a protest by people affected by last Tuesday’s oil leak. Akemo Cobom, 27, of Silk Cotton Road, Marabella, collapsed and was helped into an ambulance before being taken to the Augustus Long Hospital with respiratory problems. The two children, whose names were not given, also complained of feeling unwell and were also taken to hospital. 

Yesterday Marabella resident Corey Green said Cobom and the two children had complained of feeling upset before they left their homes to join fellow residents outside Petrotrin’s office at the Pointe-a-Pierre roundabout. Shortly after 11 am the emergency health services were contacted to take Cobom and the children away when their condition deteriorated after being exposed to the scorching sun. 

Green said: “Akemo said he was not feeling well since this morning. I telling him to go to the hospital but he wanted to come out in the protest but he start to feel more bad when he come out in the protest and he collapse. “Right now residents say they will continue to protest until Petrotrin take them seriously. People getting sick.”

Almost 50 residents, led by Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) president general Ancel Roget, began protesting at 8.30 am. Some marched from their Marabella homes to the roundabout carrying placards, chanting and beating buckets. They claimed Petrotrin was not addressing their health concerns and called for compensation and relocation in the wake of last Tuesday’s oil leak at the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery.

Some 17,000 barrels of slop oil escaped from a tank when it ruptured. An estimated 5,000 barrels leaked into the Guaracara River causing distress to Marabella residents. Yesterday residents chanted “we want justice, we want justice” under the watchful eyes of Petrotrin security officers. There were some tense moments when the officers formed a chain around the residents to keep them from blocking the entrance to Petrotrin’s office.

Roget and his executive members described that as intimidation and bullying and they too formed a human barrier to allow the protest to continue unhindered. Police officers were also present. Roget, addressing residents, said: “We are prepared to deal with the police. We are not breaking any law. We are peacefully protesting. We came here with one thing in mind that is to continue to highlight the plight of the villagers and the fenceline community residents.”

Green said residents were upset that although they were outside Petrotrin’s gate for more than three hours, no one from the company came out to meet with them. “Somebody could have come out and meet with the residents and assure them that they are taking step to address their health concerns. All they want is assurance and they not doing that right now. They need to assure people that their health is important to them but right now they just covering up,” Green said.

He also alleged that he and his wife were offered $30,000 for medical expenses by a company official to keep quiet and not protest. “That is for she to go to Augustus Long until she have the baby. I not standing for that. My wife say she not trusting that to go to Augustus Long so they will not tell us if anything is wrong with the baby,” Green said. Roget said yesterday’s protest action was successful but hinted at further action by the union, though he did not divulge what it might be. 

He warned residents that Petrotrin would try to bribe its way through the oil leak fallout and the many health problems the residents now faced. Allister Cephas, spokesman for the residents, said there had been no improvement in their living conditions and people were still falling ill. “People health conditions are the same way. They are not putting any health plans in place. They have not evacuated anyone. The condition still as it is. 

“People getting up with diarrhoea, swollen faces and so on. We need justice. Justice must be served to the poor people, the poorer class of people, especially Marabella,” Cephas said. 

MP meeting  cancelled

Pointe-a-Pierre MP, Labour Minister Errol Mc Leod, was expected to meet with residents yesterday at 8.30 am, according to a media notice issued on Monday. The notice was recalled on Monday evening. No reason was given for the cancellation. Since last week residents have been complaining that Mc Leod had not visited the area to hear their concerns or meet with them and have been calling on the Prime Minister to remove him as their MP.

Roget: Lives at risk 

Roget, in a telephone interview with the T&T Guardian, said the incident underscored what the residents have been complaining about, that their lives were in danger. “Their lives are clearly in jeopardy and in danger and it is painfully evident that Petrotrin is not doing nearly enough to address their concerns. That is why this event took place. We will continue to highlight these issues. They have a responsibility to the communities,” he added.

He said it was also of concern that the regulatory bodies, such as the Environmental Management Authority and the Occupation Health and Safety Authority (OSH), were not speaking out. He said there appeared to be “collusion” among those bodies and “a common interest and has nothing to  do with the environment and health of the residents.”


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