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Massive oil spill from mystery shipwreck causes 'national emergency' in Trinidad and Tobago

Massive oil spill from mystery shipwreck causes 'national emergency' in Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago’s prime minister said a large oil spill near the twin-island nation in the eastern Caribbean has caused a “national emergency”.

Crews are struggling to contain the oil already coating numerous beaches on Tobago’s southwest coast.

The government has yet to identify the owner of the mystery vessel that overturned near Tobago on Wednesday last week, Prime Minister Keith Rowley said Sunday.

It was not immediately clear how much oil had spilled and how much remained in the largely submerged vessel. It was also not clear what caused the vessel to overturn as there were no emergency calls, no signs of crew and no clear indication of who owned the ship.

Workers from state own Heritage Petroleum Oil and Gas Company clean up an oil spill in south western Tobago.
Workers from state own Heritage Petroleum Oil and Gas Company clean up an oil spill in south western Tobago. - AP Photo/Akash Boodan

Divers have not been able to contain the leak and are trying to determine how to remove the remaining oil, said Farley Augustine, chief secretary of Tobago’s House of Assembly, who toured the area with the prime minister.

What impact could the oil spill have on Trinidad and Tobago?

Tobago is a popular tourist destination and the spill comes at the height of Carnival season. Officials are worried about its impact on this crucial industry.

There was no immediate comment from environmental watchdogs.

Rowley said it’s too early to know how much the cleanup will cost but said “some not-so-insignificant costs are being incurred just to respond to this incident.”

He said several unidentified countries have offered to help, and discussions about those efforts are ongoing.

“Cleaning and restoration can only seriously begin after we have brought the situation under control,” he said.

“Right now, the situation is not under control. But it appears to be under sufficient control that we think we can manage.”

Rowley said that for now, good weather is helping response efforts. Hundreds of volunteers have been working since Thursday to stop the spread of the oil.

The government has posted satellite imagery on social media that shows the areas affected by the spill.

It reveals a "distinctive silver-like slick emanating from the overturned vessel" with "noticeable streaks of a thick, black-like substance accompanying the spill", the post says.