Capsized boat leaking oil off the coast of Tobago leaves authorities concerned

A capsized vessel in Tobago which is leaking oil in the waters has been identified by divers as a boat named Gulfstream and is said to be an Oil Products Tanker

An unidentified vessel which overturned in the waters just outside of Cove estate is leaking oil into the sea. (Credits: Tobago Updates, Facebook)
An unidentified vessel which overturned in the waters just outside of Cove estate is leaking oil into the sea. (Credits: Tobago Updates, Facebook)

A capsized vessel in Tobago which is leaking oil in the waters has been identified by divers as a boat named Gulfstream and is said to be an Oil Products Tanker. Details about the vessel and where it is from have still not been revealed by the authorities.

Concerns were raised as oil residue began to wash up onto main roads and covered the shore line as well.

Alvin Douglas, of the Tobago Marine Safety and Security Services Ltd, acted as the head of the dive team, which looked into the capsized vessel and undertook the difficult task of uncovering the vessel’s registration number so that it could be identified accurately.

Considering the gravity of the situation, an emergency media conference was called where the Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary Farley Augustine, explained the situation.

Due to the vessel capsizing and leaking profusely, oil has been found hundreds of metres from the site of the incident, roughly 200 metres south of the Cove at Canoe Bay.

Allan Stewart, the CEO of the Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), stated that the leaked oil is now moving from Canoe Bay and is progressing towards the northwest, through Little Rockley Bay near Lambeau and into Rockley Bay, Scarborough. This means that the spill now spans a distance of slightly more than 8 kilometres.

The Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries is responsible for the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan and has initiated efforts to clean up the spill, in collaboration with TEMA.

The Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries also leads the Incident Command Team, which responds to spills and works with Kaizen Environmental Services, a company which is recognized for its expertise in managing oil spills in an astute and efficient manner.

Kaizen stores equipment in Scarborough to be prepared for major spills such as this one and has already approved the transfer of said equipment to TEMA and the THA, to limit the environmental damage that can be caused by a spill of this magnitude.

TEMA has also said that it has healthy stocks of sphagnum peat moss, which is used to encapsulate the crude oil present on the surface of the water, which can then be removed with a large net, thus clearing the water significantly. Multiple other providers of services and equipment of this nature are also making efforts to contribute to the clean up initiative, adding their resources and abilities to the mix.

Augustine of Kaizen Environmental Services, stated the following, “I am advised that we have some specialist divers on their way to Tobago. However, it will be relatively dark by the time they get here with their vessel. So, we had to go ahead and utilise experienced and PADI-certified divers from right in Tobago to begin some of the discovery for us. Because time is of the essence.”

Augustine went on to explain that the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment is overseeing the land response team while the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard is coordinating the response at sea with the shared aim of managing the risks presented by the spill on the environment and limiting any further damage.

The vessel is said to have capsized during the night on Tuesday and remained unidentified initially. Concerns were raised when the vessel got stuck on a coral reef and continued to leak oil, endangering the reef itself, apart from the surrounding waters and the mainland.

The authorities have stated that since the response has only just been initiated, it is very difficult to give an assessment of the situation at this time.

Augustine added that, “We can’t, at this juncture, give you with certainty some of those details you’re asking, and that’s why we have to send divers down. They will tell us whether it has reached the depths to where reefs are in the area and give us a quantified kind of form, what the environmental impact has been about this issue.”

Many citizens are fearful of the effect this incident will have on the supply of fish, to which Augustine said that the area used by local fishermen is quite far from the affected region and that the fish caught there should be suitable for consumption.

“I wouldn’t want to alarm to the extent of saying that people should not buy fish around the island because it’s not safe to eat. That’s not necessarily the case. Just avoid that area.

And I assure you that most of our fisherfolk are responsible members of the industry. They will not go fishing in the midst of the oil spill; they will go distances much further away. So yes, you can safely continue to engage your local fishermen.”

TEMA and the THA are keeping a watch on several areas where the oil can move on to the shore based on the current trajectory of the spill. The authorities are expecting the spill to make its way to Lambeau and Rockley Beaches and are currently attempting to mitigate the effects of such a situation if it arises.

Augustine stated, “There is a possibility that the Magdalena area may be impacted as well. We saw signs of it coming up to the roads to what is known as coming up to the port of Scarborough.”

Those seeking to travel to southwestern Tobago have been advised to refrain from doing so, till the situation is brought under control.

“Let me warn fisherfolk, those with vessels, jet skis, swimmers, and whomever, please avoid the area as much as possible. Don’t go purposefully sightseeing or sailing into the area. It’s not an opportunity to go sightseeing.”

Citizens have also been warned against engaging in recreational activities along the shores of the affected area as the oil continues to come up onto the shore line.

Augustine added that the relevant authorities are making every possible effort to resolve the issue in a timely and comprehensive fashion, to ensure the safety of citizens and the environment.