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Oil beaches

By NEWSDAY REPORTER Saturday, December 21 2013

click on pic to zoom in
COVERED: A crab, completely covered in thick crude oil is displayed yesterday by a fisherman as clean-up operations continued at two beaches in La Bre...
COVERED: A crab, completely covered in thick crude oil is displayed yesterday by a fisherman as clean-up operations continued at two beaches in La Bre...

THICK crude oil coated two beaches in South Trinidad yesterday almost two days after an oil spill of unknown origin was first noticed on the sea. Residents including fishermen at Coffee Beach, La Brea — the hardest hit area — are now predicting a hungry Christmas as all fishing activities have had to be suspended.

The Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) which was alerted to the spill by the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) and the Ministry of Energy, in a media statement yesterday stated oil samples were collected from Coffee and Carrat Shed beaches in an effort to determine the source of the spill.

According to the IMA, preliminary observations indicated the La Brea shoreline has been “heavily impacted” with a sizeable area of the beach covered in a thick layer of oil. The IMA also responded to an earlier oil spill off the San Fernando coastline on December 17.

Petrotrin, in a media release yesterday, expressed concern over the frequency of these spills saying it has established two separate teams to investigate each oil spill.

“On December 17, a weld leak developed on the No 10 Sea Line at the Petrotrin Pointe-a-Pierre port during fuel oil bunkers loading operations for the barge in Marabella. Later that same day a gasket on a 16” line on Riser Platform 5 in Trinmar’s Main Field leaked and oil spilled into the sea,” the company stated.

“On December 18, Petrotrin received reports of oil at the Coffee Beach/Carrat Shed Beach areas in La Brea, affecting the beach and fishing vessels. On December 19, an oil leak was reported in the area of Platform 17, in Petrotrin’s Trinmar Operations East Field. Surveillance exercises conducted by air and sea have not established a connection among these incidents,” the company noted.

“The spills at Pointe-a-Pierre, Riser Platform 5 and Platform 17 in Trinmar while linked to the company’s operations were successfully contained. The clean-up exercise is expected to be completed in those areas within a 24 hour period,” Petrotrin noted.

However, the company also noted that preliminary Laboratory tests conducted on samples of oil taken from the spill in the La Brea area “suggest that this spill did not originate from Pointe-a-Pierre or Riser Platform 5 and Platform 17 in the Trinmar area.”

Although the source of the spill in La Brea is still undetermined, Petrotrin said it has mobilised all available resources to manage the spill response efforts, Petrotrin stated, adding, four contractors had been engaged to work alongside its operations personnel to assist with containment and clean-up efforts at the site.

Petrotrin noted that affected residents who required medical attention were being treated at an adjacent Lake Asphalt facility in Brighton. “At this time a total of 25 persons have been treated, 24 were discharged and one had to be provided with further care,” the company noted.

Fisherman, Gopaul Balkissoon, said fishermen were not being allowed access to their boats due to the presence of the oil which had coated their boats with a reddish brown sheen.

“Nets have been damaged, boats have been damaged, engines have been damaged, all covered in oil and right now is real chaos, fishermen are stressed out,” he said.

Asked about the cost to clean the boats, Balkissoon said, “about five thousand just to clean the boats. You cannot really clean a net...you have to build over a net and that is fifteen thousand dollars. If your engine catches oil that is another five grand to repair.” On the issue of evacuation of residents, La Brea MP Fitzgerald Jeffery said while he recommended residents be evacuated, he said many had expressed concern that their homes would be broken into in their absence.

Meanwhile, Minister of the Environment Ganga Singh said he is looking into putting in place an Environmental Forensic Centre to track environmental hazards and emergencies.

“We are looking to set up an Environmental Forensic Centre in order to provide markers and do the fingerprinting. We can utilise the IMA to do the fingerprinting. Right now the issue is containment so that it would not impact negatively on the Vessigny beach,” Singh said when asked to comment on clean-up efforts.

Asked if there was anything in place to deal with oil spills, Singh said, “There is a certain trigger we have under this administration the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan which is triggered at the Ministry of Energy.”

He further said that, the Ministry of the Environment does not have any resources to deal with oil spills, as the resources must come from the first responder to the oil spill which was Petrotrin. “But certainly the EMA is looking into the enforcement and compliance of the first oil spill. They are looking to see what measures they can take against Petrotrin in that regard,” he said.

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