Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says while the Tobago oil spill isn’t completely under control, it remains manageable and the situation should improve with additional resources.
During a media conference in Tobago, after he completed tours of the affected areas over the weekend, Rowley said the disaster remains at a tier two level and officials are doing all in their power to identify the owners of the overturned vessel and minimise the spills impact.
The vessel, identified as Gulfstream, overturned along the coast off the Cove last Wednesday, leaving miles of coastline along the west of the island blanketed in oil leaking from its hull
Yesterday, Rowley admitted the authorities still don’t know what the vessel contains.
“What we do know, it appears to be broken having made contact here and is leaking some kind of hydrocarbon that is fouling the water and the coastline. That vessel could have come to us from any kind of operation, especially if the operation is illicit,” he said.
He said the clean-up team is still in the containment stage.
And as the Tobago House of Assembly awaits the test results from samples taken earlier this week, Rowley stressed how important it was to move from the containment phase to the emptying of the vessel to prevent continuous spill into the waters.
“This phase will remain as long as the vessel is there and is a threat with the contents that can foul our environment. But then we would want to move from that stage to the stage of emptying the vessel.”
He admitted the country may need to seek international assistance if the situation becomes out of control.
“We will have to move relatively quickly to determining what we do next, which is to bring the vessel to a position where it does not pose a threat at the national level,” the PM said.
“We may require help because once we start talking about salvaging, which is to get the vessel in a situation where we can control what goes on, we have to have outside help.”
He further explained that he was happy the spill started in an isolated area, preventing more extensive damage.
However, he couldn’t say if there was a set deadline to have the vessel removed and the situation under complete control.
“Had it been a little further west, in the Crown Point area, much of that spill may easily have gone into the marine park and into the river Nylon Pool. That too would have been a major disaster. So we have to thank God for small mercies,” he noted.
While the vessel’s origin, ownership and contents remain a mystery, Rowley said the team is doing their best to prevent the situation from worsening.
“We are doing all that is possible to answer these questions from mobilising the contingency plan. Everything that needs to be done has been, to this point, done and is being done and will be done to ameliorate and minimise and eventually eliminate the threat,” he said.
“What we have to do now is to do what is required to bring some control to the situation, cleaning the beaches was good. But if stuff is being poured out on a continuous basis, that is just speeding up in bird cleaning and restoration can only seriously begin after we have brought the situation under control. Right now, the situation is not under control. But it appears to be under sufficient control that we think that we can manage.”
Lamenting the financial constraints and the unplanned nature of the incident, he said there is a need to improve the country’s fleet capabilities, announcing plans for major vessel refurbishments and the establishment of a new Coast Guard facility in Tobago, possibly at Charlotteville.
THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine meanwhile said the divers had not been able to cap the leak. As a result, he said the team is working to find a way to extract all the oil from the vessel.
Minister of Energy and Energy Industries Stuart Young, as well as Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan, were present during the tour.
Meanwhile, the Institute of marine Affairs, responding to information in a Sunday Guardian article yesterday, said it does not have specialist industrial or commercial divers on staff. This, it said, meant it could not have, nor was it asked to have its divers plug the spill to the capsized vessel off the Tobago shoreline.
The institute said it is a marine research organisation of which, for this event, its work is primarily to conduct research, conservation, restoration and rehabilitation where possible.