PORT OF SPAIN, (AFP) - Emergency workers in Trinidad and Tobago were scrambling Saturday to clean up a massive oil spill after a mystery vessel ran aground near the Caribbean island, casting a pall over Carnival tourism.
At least 15 kilometres of coastline have been affected in Tobago, and authorities were poised to declare a national emergency, Farley Augustine, chief secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, told reporters. Environmental officials said the spill has damaged a reef and Atlantic beaches, boding ill for the island’s resorts and hotels, the lifeline of the local economy during Carnival season.
Augustine said the government may elevate the accident to a Level 3 disaster, adding, “everything indicates that we are going in that direction.” The mystery vessel, identified as The Gulfstream, capsized on Wednesday off the coast of the Cove Eco-Industrial Park in southern Tobago, and currents have dragged the boat shoreward. - Nampa/AFP
When sighted on Wednesday, the ship was sailing under an unidentified flag, and made no emergency calls. The island’s Emergency Management Agency said there were no signs of life on the vessel, whose cargo was initially believed to consist of sand and wood.
The agency released photos of an estimated 1 000 volunteers in protective white jumpsuits working to remove oil from beaches. Divers were preparing to plug a leak in the ship, Augustine added.
For now, according to one government source, “all the Coast Guard’s efforts are aimed at containing the oil spill.” The source, speaking on grounds of anonymity, said it would be “some time” before investigators could determine the ship’s origins, ownership and intended destination.
Augustine said the island was ready to accept help from other countries, and had received offers of assistance. Energy minister Stuart Young from Trinidad travelled to Tobago, and said the main island was ready to offer “any assistance that can be provided.”
The disaster comes on the eve of Carnival, and Dave Tancoo, an opposition member of Parliament, said tour operators were likely to face considerable losses at a time when they usually see peak profits.
“This opportunity was cruelly taken away from them,” he added. - Nampa/AFP