Tobago Chamber: Coast Guard grounded in oil spill disaster

Cleanup efforts underway at Scarborough after an oil spill from an overturned vessel near Canoe Bay, Tobago.  - THA
Cleanup efforts underway at Scarborough after an oil spill from an overturned vessel near Canoe Bay, Tobago. - THA

TOBAGO Chamber of Industry and Commerce president Curtis Williams believes the TT Coast Guard should have been in a position to respond more readily to the oil spill which has severely affected the shorelines of several coastal villages and poses a threat to the island’s economy.

Around 7.20 am on February 7, a 300 ft-long vessel – Gulfstream – was found overturned and leaking an oil-like substance some 200 metres off the coast of the Cove Eco Industrial Park.

A massive clean-up exercise, involving various groups and agencies, has since been launched in an attempt to contain and eradicate the spill.

Williams said the chamber’s members were disturbed by the extent of the spill but lamented that “Tobago was not in a position of readiness in terms of the Coast Guard, the national organisation being able to assist at a moment’s notice.”

He continued, “We’ve seen that a private vessel had to come out there and lend assistance to TEMA (Tobago Emergency Management Agency) and other agencies, private divers. We not seeing the Coast Guard being able to respond in any timely manner and get certain things done. So we were moved by that delay in response because this falls under national security in terms of the response of the services of the Coast Guard.”

Williams said chamber members were taken aback by this.

“We further learnt that the Coast Guard was lacking resources in Tobago. No vessels, no vehicles. They don’t even have a flagpole to fly the Coast Guard flag down at their base and it has been months that they have been crying for a flagpole to the Ministry of National Security and no help at all.

“These things are alarming and someone needs to bring these to the attention of the minister (of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds) and let him understand what is happening here in Tobago with the Coast Guard. They don’t even have a flagpole to fly the national flag... So I think it is something that should be looked at and talked about.”

He echoed THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine’s view that the oil spill was a national disaster, saying Tobago needed the support of the national community to help rehabilitate the island.

Augustine said experts from the Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd are guiding them in the discussion.

He said Minister of Energy and Energy Industries Stuart Young and Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan visited Tobago briefly on February 9 to get a first-hand account of the damage caused by the oil spill and to see what assistance was needed.

“Because the State needs to assist in fixing this,” Augustine said. Teams from state-owned Heritage Petroleum were also dispatched to assist on February 9.

He said representatives from the Ministry of Energy were also expected to tour the affected coastline.

Augustine, at a news conference on February 7, said the role of the Coast Guard in Tobago has been the focus of much debate over the years.

He added more will be said on the issue at a later date.

Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association president Alpha Lorde, meanwhile, said the oil spill has far-reaching implications for both the environment and economy.

“But largely it will become an economic issue not just for the tourism stakeholders but anybody whose livelihood depends on the water,” he said.

“There are a lot of fisherfolk who, I think, will be affected and their economic loss also cannot go unnoticed.”

Lorde said many people were surprised by the magnitude of the spill.

“It is definitely not some small simple issue.”

He is grateful, though, that none of the popular beaches, particularly in the western part of the island, have been affected or closed.

“But again we still have to look at the environmental impact largely and that is to be assessed.

I think the important thing now is getting the clean up as quickly as possible and I think all of the agencies have to work together on that.”

Lorde said members are willing to volunteer their time and resources if called upon.

“We are encouraging people to help. It is our island, our business.”

On February 9, a post on Facebook urged Community Emergency Response Team volunteers to participate in the clean-up exercise.


"Tobago Chamber: Coast Guard grounded in oil spill disaster"

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