February 28, 2024

Trinidad and Tobago’s prime minister has said that a large oil spill near the twin-island nation has caused a “national emergency” and vowed that the government will spare no expense to help rehabilitate the island’s beaches.

Oil from the spill has coated numerous beaches on Tobago’s south-west coast, and the government has yet to identify the owner of the vessel that was found overturned off the coast last week.

The prime minister, Keith Rowley, said it was not immediately clear how much oil had spilled and how much remained in the largely submerged vessel. Nor was it clear what caused the vessel to overturn.

“An unknown vessel has apparently drifted upside down into Tobago. That vessel, we don’t know who it belongs to. We have no idea where it came from and we also don’t know all that it contains,” he said at a press conference reported by the Trinidad & Tobago Newsday.

“What we do know is that it appears to be broken and is leaking some kind of hydrocarbon that is fouling the water and the coastline,” Rowley added. “That vessel could have come to us from any kind of operation, especially if the operation is illicit.”

Farley Augustine, chief secretary of Tobago’s house of assembly, said divers had not been able to contain the leak and were trying to determine how to remove the remaining oil.

Rowley said that the costs of the cleanup were likely to be high. “This is a national emergency and therefore it will have to be funded as an extraordinary expense … You have to find the money and prioritise. So this is priority and we have to respond,” he said, adding that “some not-so-insignificant costs are being incurred just to respond to this incident”.

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But he warned that “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 we can manage.”

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