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She’s listing badly in the Gulf of Paria, and what happens next is anyone’s guess. We’re referring to the stricken Floating Storage and Offshore (FSO) vessel, Nabarima, that is laden with 1.3 million barrels of crude oil – that’s 55 million gallons. If that vessel were to sink, depositing its cargo into the ocean, it could be an environmental disaster of epic proportions.

The vessel lies between Trinidad and Venezuela, and the spillage could affect marine life and cripple the fishing and tourism industries in those territories. Birds could also be adversely affected, as we saw in the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989, and the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Memories of oil-covered birds laying helplessly on shorelines, unable to move, and dead fish washing up, still tug at our heartstrings. And let us not be unmindful of the fact that it took roughly 25 years for all of the marine life in Alaska (Prince William Sound) to return. Never mind the billions of dollars for the clean-up, and so on and so forth.

According to a ranking member of the Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS), an environmental lobby in Trinidad dedicated to ensuring that the seas remain as pristine and as environmentally safe as possible: “If this thing flips we will all pay the consequences for decades to come. Responsible government must be proactive and ensure that this imminent environmental catastrophe does not decimate the Caribbean Sea.” You don’t say!

As you are very well aware, high-stakes geo-political games by the United States to pressure Venezuela is reportedly preventing companies from attempting to unload the vessel before it settles beneath the waves. They are fearful of US sanctions – the oil is sanctioned oil. Of course, there is a school of thought that the Venezuelan government is using the grave situation as leverage to get US sanctions eased. There are reports that the sanctions have been eased, albeit temporarily, thereby allowing the Maduro government to sell the oil on the international market.  The US is reportedly lifting the sanctions only on the oil aboard the FSO Nabarima to avert a possible environmental disaster. We certainly wish that the sanctions against Venezuela (and Cuba) could also be lifted to end the humanitarian disaster over there. Here’s hoping that good sense, sans the rancour and political chess will prevail.

Naturally, we here at NEWSCO reached out to Gregory Georges, the Chief Executive Officer of the West Indies Oil Company Ltd (WIOC). After all, they do have an off-shore oil installation called, Sea Island Jetty, a few miles out to sea on our western coast. It has some oil stored aboard it, with undersea pipes bringing fuel into WIOC’s onshore facilities, and for the servicing of other vessels. CEO Georges assured us that they are keeping abreast of the developments in the Gulf of Paria, and that their regular maintenance and audits ensure that Sea Island Jetty never poses a threat to the environment. This writer has observed the WIOC facilities, never mind as a layman, and they appear quite circumspect. And admirably so.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Trinidad and Venezuela. This is a nightmare. Livelihoods (fishing and tourism), food security, ecosystems (mangroves, breeding grounds, etc.) are at stake, and we trust that a solution to this problem can be found as a matter of urgency. Meanwhile, let us continue to be vigilant keepers of our oil installations, and good stewards of the environment. The last thing we need, especially during this time of Covid, is an accident that could wreak havoc on Mother Nature and further cripple our tourism industry.  

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