All-Tobago Fisherfolk Association (ATFA) president Curtis Douglas has vowed to fight back, as he claimed BHP's geotechnical survey in Tobago waters went beyond previously stated boundaries and affected fishermen's livelihoods.
The fisherfolk of Tobago "are not going to sit back and take” it, Douglas said at a press conference at the Pigeon Point Fishing Facility on Friday.
A week ago, Douglas said BHP had begun a geotechnical survey in Tobago’s waters on July 11.
He told reporters then that the fishermen had a meeting with BHP in February, but were not told the company had been granted clearance to begin work.
He said should it go ahead, it would negatively affect the fishermen’s livelihood and the island’s marine resources.
On Friday, Douglas said the association met with Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis last Tuesday. But he said, “For fairness, the honourable Chief Secretary had told us he would be in contact with ATFA and the executive within seven days. That seven days will fall on Tuesday, so I would not say anything on his behalf.”
But showing a newspaper clipping of an advertisement by the oil company which illustrated the route of the rig, he alleged BHP had used a different route from what was publicised.
He claimed the exercise had damaged the property of a number of fishermen, and ATFA had received over 20 complaints.
As an association, he said, ATFA intends to represent them and to claim for the damage. He said he had contacted officials at BHP and was told to send his complaint in writing by e-mail.
Vice president of the association Junior Quashie, also citing the newspaper clipping, said the route was “supposed to leave Dragon Mouth, which is the Bocas (off) Port of Spain, and travel south of Tobago and go up east of Tobago."
In an e-mailed response to Newsday on Friday, principal media relations officer at BHP Judy Dane confirmed that on July 21, BHP received reports from fishermen about possible loss of equipment involving a BHP-contracted drillship and its supporting vessels offshore.
Asked whether BHP had kept to its route as previously outlined, she said, "The vessels were en route in preparation for an appraisal drilling campaign at the Bongos 3 and 4 deep water wells.
“BHP is in the process of investigating the reports and will communicate with regulators and the fisherfolk about any necessary actions when the investigation is complete."
She said BHP is committed to safe operations.
"The safety of our people and the communities in which we operate always comes first."
But Quashie remains upset.
He said, "We are calling on BHP to do what they have to do in a quick time – support the fishermen by compensating all who were damaged, and stop the childish attitude that they have, playing cat-and-mouse game."
One fisherman, Kemba Lawrence, said, “It real tough out there – I take my last set of money, put down my FADs (fish aggregating devices) and them and go back out in the sea – and nothing, all FADs gone. I lost all three FADs – rope alone is about $200/$300, and you using two coils of ropes on one.
“It real hard. I have bills to pay and I was expecting to make back on those. Where my FADs and them was (sic), the ship pass in that direction. They were there before. Then when the ship pass, they are not there again.”
Nigel Nichols said he had lost seven fish pods.
“The day when the rig pass up, I didn’t went (sic) sea that day. We were on the beach watching it go up the road and yesterday when I went, I didn’t see any of my FADs. I feel hurt, because this is a lot of loss.”