Trinidad and Tobago declares ‘national emergency’ as oil spill from mystery vessel pollutes beaches

Office of the Chief Secretary/Reuters

This distribution photo, released on February 10, 2024, shows an oil spill on the island of Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago



CNN

An overturned ship has caused a massive oil spill along the coastline of Trinidad and Tobago, which the Caribbean country’s prime minister described on Sunday as a “national emergency”.

According to the country’s Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM), the spill occurred on February 7 off the southern coast of the island of Tobago. About 15 kilometers (9 miles) of the coastline “has now turned black,” the agency said in a statement on Saturday.

Photos from the scene show salvage workers wading through thick black silt, while large parts of the beach are covered in oil. Several government agencies, including at least a thousand volunteers, worked to control the spill.

Prime Minister Keith Rowley said at a press conference on Sunday that “the situation is not under control.” The origin of the ship has not yet been identified, he added.

“This is a national emergency and therefore it will have to be funded as an extraordinary expense,” Rowley said, adding: “we don’t know the full scope and scale of what will be required.”

Authorities have installed booms (floating barriers) to prevent the spill from spreading to other areas, said Farley Augustine, the chief secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly. Officials also sent divers to try to stop the leak, but were unsuccessful.

“What needs to happen is we need to find a way to extract now every bit of oil that is in the ship, taking into account what we have repeated – without knowing the schedules of the ship,” Augustine told reporters.

CNN has contacted the Prime Minister’s office for comment.

Office of the Chief Secretary/Reuters

This distribution photo, released on February 10, 2024, shows an oil spill on the island of Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago

Akash Boodan/AP

Workers clean up an oil spill on Rockly Bay beach in Scarborough, Trinidad and Tobago, on February 10, 2024. The origin of the ship that caused the leak is not yet known.

Clement Williams/AFP/Getty Images

The oil spill, pictured on February 10, covered about 15 kilometers (about 9 miles) of the coastline with black residue.

“We are not sure if it is a cargo ship, a tanker or a barge because only the keel of the ship is visible. And its identifying physical features are in water that we cannot currently penetrate,” Rowley said on Sunday.

“But we do know that it appears to be faulty because we made contact here and it is leaking some kind of hydrocarbon that is contaminating the water and the coastline,” he added.

Residents in the Lambeau area reported a constant odor due to the spill, causing some to worry about their health, according to local media.

Augustine, the chief secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, advised people with respiratory illnesses to use masks and “move on your own or find ways to mitigate that.”

The spill occurred during Carnival season, one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions.

“The best part of Tobago’s economy is tourism, so it’s important that we are aware that we don’t expose the tourism product to this kind of thing, and because this has happened, we have to contain it,” said the prime minister. said.

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