February 24, 2024

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Trinidad and Tobago declares a “national emergency” after an oil leak from a mysterious ship pollutes beaches

Trinidad and Tobago declares a “national emergency” after an oil leak from a mysterious ship pollutes beaches

Office of the Secretary-General/Reuters

An oil spill on the island of Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago, is seen in this photo posted on February 10, 2024.



CNN

A capsized ship has caused a massive oil spill along the coast of Trinidad and Tobago, in what the Caribbean nation's prime minister described as a “national emergency” on Sunday.

The spill occurred on February 7 off the southern shores of the island of Tobago, according to the country's Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM). About 15 kilometers (9 miles) of the coast “is now black,” the agency said in a statement on Saturday.

Pictures from the scene show rescuers wading through thick black sludge, with oil covering huge areas of the beach. Several government agencies, including at least 1,000 volunteers, are working to control the leak.

“The situation is not under control,” Prime Minister Keith Rowley said at a news conference on Sunday. He added that the origins of the ship have not yet been determined.

“This is a national emergency and therefore will have to be funded as an extraordinary expenditure,” Rowley said, adding: “We do not know the full scope and scale of what will be required.”

Farley Augustine, chief secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, said authorities had installed floating barriers to prevent the leak from spreading to other areas. Officials also sent divers to try to plug the leak, but they were unsuccessful.

“What has to happen is that we now have to find a way to extract every bit of oil in the ship, taking into account as we have been repeating – the lack of knowledge of the ship’s blueprints,” Augustin told reporters.

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CNN has reached out to the Prime Minister's Office for comment.

Office of the Secretary-General/Reuters

An oil spill on the island of Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago, is seen in this photo posted on February 10, 2024.

Akash Budhan/AFP

Workers clean up an oil spill on the beach of Rockley Bay in Scarborough, Trinidad and Tobago, on February 10, 2024. The origin of the ship that caused the spill is not yet known.

Clement Williams/AFP/Getty Images

The oil spill, which was photographed on February 10, covered about 15 kilometers (about 9 miles) of coastline in black residue.

“We are not sure if it is a cargo ship, a tanker or a barge because only the keel of the ship is visible. Its distinct physical properties are in the water and we cannot penetrate it at the moment,” Rowley said on Sunday.

He added: “But we know that it appears to be broken after its connection here and some kind of hydrocarbon is leaking out that is polluting the water and the coast.”

Residents of the local Lambeau area reported a persistent foul odor due to the leak, causing some to worry about their health, according to local media.

Augustine, chief secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, advised those with respiratory illnesses to use masks and “self-transmit or find ways to mitigate it.”

The leak occurred during the Carnival season, one of the country's biggest tourist attractions.

“The best part of Tobago's economy is tourism, so it's important to realize that we're not exposing the tourism product to that kind of thing, and because this has happened, we have to contain it,” the Prime Minister said. He said.

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