UNC calls for forensic probe into Tobago oil spill

Dr Roodal Moonilal - File photo
Dr Roodal Moonilal - File photo

After an investigative media report about the Tobago oil spill and owners of the capsized barge as well as governmental reports to the public on the matter, Opposition MP for Oropouche East Dr Roodal Moonilal is calling for a forensic examination into the matter.

At a UNC media briefing on March 3, Moonilal described the February 7 spill as an “act of environmental terrorism” and said the country was no closer to understanding how and who caused the spill than when it was first identified.

“We have had this matter which constitutes a regional security issue and today an environmental disaster,” he said as he began addressing the matter at his party's headquarters at Mulchan Seuchan Rd, Chaguanas.

He noted the oil spill's effects had gone beyond the coastline of Tobago and was now affecting other islands such as Grenada, Bonaire and Aruba.

Citing a report in a Sunday newspaper, Moonilal said the public had to rely on media reports which traced the origins of the barge and related matters and chain of activities that led to the oil spill.

“If the newspaper and investigative journalists across the transatlantic ocean can do this, what is the Government doing? How come the Government of TT – with all the multilateral support at their disposal… Mr (Fitzgerald) Hinds runs the Ministry of National Security where we have spent billions on intelligence and so on, and the Government cannot respond today to tell us who are owners of that vessel called the Gulfstream barge.

“They cannot tell us, conclusively, where did it originate from? Where was it going? What was it doing?”

On February 17, the Prime Minister said while good progress was made and many leads identified, there was no definitive identification of the vessel’s operators or owners and confirmation of the offending parties.

The report said a Panamanian firm was at the centre of the spill.

Moonilal said TT was in a fascinating position where its agencies and waters might have been used to facilitate sanctions-busting (the act of trading with a country with which trade is not officially allowed).

Moonilal said the Government had not produced a report as to the owners of the vessel and what steps were being taken to call those responsible to account and to pay for the damage incurred.

He repeated the damage was long-term as the country was dealing with fisheries, livelihoods, jobs and environment.

“This Government has not been able – in 21 days or so – to bring any conclusion in terms of investigation….”

He said while the Ministry of National Security had spoken to an ongoing investigation into the matter, he said the country was no nearer to having questions answered.

Moonilal said that was why the country was now depending on reports in the press for information.

He said the report might be accurate but required state and international agencies to verify ownership.

UNC called for a full criminal forensic investigation to trace the “digital footprints of this environmental act of terrorism and sanctions-busting," Moonilal said.

He added that the account should be multi-divisional, multi-agency and cross-border to ensure questions were answered.

“This is a serious threat to tourism in the Caribbean; the life-blood of Caribbean economies, generally, is tourism. And when certain islands are affected this way, there are long-term problems.”

Questioned by the media on its call for a forensic examination into the oil spill and why it would be different to what was currently being done by the Government, Moonilal asked what was being done by Government.

He said the public did not know what was being done as the public was not being told every week or two weeks what was happening.

“There has been no report to the community here on what has been the outcome so far on their investigation, while we have in the newspaper today, the outcome of their investigations. Newspaper accounts are not official accounts, of course.

“But the Government needs to tell us first what they are doing and if they have arrived at any preliminary conclusions based on the enormous resources at their disposal.”

When asked how the examination could be done, Moonilal said there were several units in the National Security Ministry that co-ordinated with international and regional bodies.

He said the Government could establish a small team that works with international community in real time to track and trace “vessels, owners, persons (sic).”

He added it should also trace the owners if the vessels involved in the oil spill, what are they, when did it happen and what are they to account for.

Moonilal said there were environmental laws and marine legislation that could be looked at for pollution, recklessness, negligence, destruction of the environment to hold individuals and entities accountable.

“Just the act of abandoning a barge in the sea may constitute some offences as well.

"So you have to find people and companies to call to book and a forensic investigation into that led by a Ministry of National Security that is awake, a minister that is awake, with a multi-divisional team – a very small team of about four-five people – working with the international agencies.

"The US has agencies that deal with this, Europe has agencies that deal with this, you would think a preliminary conclusion on this could come in seven days.”

Moonilal said, about 25 days after the spill, there was not a preliminary conclusion from the Government about who caused it.

He said the Opposition filed a question in Parliament on Friday but it was not approved as an urgent question and it was redrafted and filed on notice.

He expects an answer from Hinds in the coming days on the matter.

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"UNC calls for forensic probe into Tobago oil spill"

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