Oil spill leads to 'national emergency' in Trinidad and Tobago

An unknown ship leaking oil onto Trinidad and Tobago’s coasts has devolved into a “national emergency,” the country’s prime minister said Sunday.

The overturned and mostly submerged vessel began leaking oil last Wednesday just off the south coast of Tobago — the smaller of the twin islands at the southern tip of the Lesser Antilles — the country’s emergency response agency said Saturday.

Prime Minister Keith Rowley warned Sunday that “the situation is not under control.”

“This is a national emergency and therefore it will have to be funded as an extraordinary expense,” he said, adding, “we don’t know the full scope and scale of what is going to be required.” 

Many of Tobago’s southern beaches and coastline have been inundated with oil, posing a risk to beachgoers and wildlife.

The ship has been visually identified as “Gulfstream,” but its national origin and official designation are unknown, the emergency response agency said. The exact size and shape of the ship is also unknown because it is overturned.

“We’re not sure if it’s a freighter, a tanker, or a barge because only the keel of the vessel is visible. And its identifying physical characteristics are in water that we can’t penetrate for the moment,” Rowley said.

“But we do know it appears to be broken having made contact here and is leaking some kind of hydrocarbon that is fouling the water and the coastline,” he added.

The country has deployed buoy booms to limit oil spread and has dispatched divers to attempt to stem the flow, without success, Tobago House leader Farley Augustine said.

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