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Disaster Recovery Teams Join as Mysteries Grow in Tobago Oil Spill

February 22 ------ Two weeks after an oil barge being towed through the waters near the Caribbean Island of Tobago capsized and started what has been declared a “national disaster,” officials in the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago are continuing to work on the recovery effort. The Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries reported today that it has retained international disaster recovery teams and a subsea specialist while the search for the tugboat continues and now the police are investigating a bag of cocaine that washed ashore.


The barge, which is wedged upside down on a reef about 500 feet offshore, is believed to have been loaded with as much as 35,000 barrels of fuel oil according to Tobago officials. The spill has covered more than 10 miles of the island’s beaches along the southern and western coast but winds and currents have taken much of the oil out to sea. Countries ranging from Grenada to Venezuela have expressed concern that the oil was spreading and would reach their areas.


To aid in the ongoing oil recovery efforts which have included many volunteers, the Ministry reported today it has retained T&T Salvage and QT Environmental both licensed oil spill removal organizations to aid in the next phase of the operation. They will be overseeing a hydrographic survey and dive crews will be utilized to assess the situation and attempt to plug leaks in the barge. Based on the survey results, they will also help with the oil recovery program while also developing a plan to remove the oil from the barge and salvage the wreck. Remote vehicle operator Subsea Specialists was also due to begin work today using its ROVs around the wreck. Those efforts were expected to continue through Friday.


The government said the first priority is to stop the flow of hydrocarbons from the overturned barge along with the focus on containment. They are also looking to maximize the oil recovery expanding on the efforts of the teams and volunteers who have cleaned the beaches and assisted in placing containment booms. The operations had to be suspended on a portion of the beach on Sunday when a black bag washed ashore. An inspection showed what the police now report is 1.1 kilos of cocaine. The police placed a value of $75,000 on the cocaine but have been careful not to say it was from the barge. They are still investigating to see if it is linked to the oil barge. The government has not officially commented further on the identity of the tug or its owners only saying that it was continuing its investigation. They initially identified the vessel as the Solo Creed, a tug registered in Tanzania. Databases report it was sold last year but both the name and ownership remain unclear.


A maritime attorney in Trinidad speaking to the local newspaper the Trinidad Express said she has been conducting independent research and believes she traced the ownership to a Guyanese entity. Nyree Alfonse said she believes the cargo was for a consignee in Guyana which is similar to the government’s earlier statements that the tug and barge were bound for Guyana.


The lawyer said the trail shows the tug transited the Panama Canal in January and picked up the barge in Aruba. She however identifies the barge by the name Coolie Boy saying she thinks Gulfstream was an earlier name. As part of the investigation she wants to know if the tug encountered troubles or made an erroneous maneuver causing the barge possibly to ground or if the tug encountered possibly mechanical problems. No matter the cause, she is convinced the tug cut the lines to barge and fled.


She notes that the tug has turned off its AIS signal but believes it will be turned back on at some point. Furthermore, she suggested that the Panama Canal would have inspected the vessel’s documents before it was permitted to make the transit. The government has not commented further on its search for the tug and its owners.



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