Letter: Port of Spain waterfront covered in oil

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Dear Sir:

Today, Tuesday 12th March, 8 am, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) reported another oil spill, this time at the Port of Port of Spain on the Waterfront. When FFOS visited there was a dense concentration of oil around the Port of Spain Harbour near to an industrial barge. Eye witness reports stated that the oil emanated from this said barge.

Because our laws are poorly regulated and enforced it is much cheaper to dump waste oil rather than to treat and dispose of it properly. Regularly there are deliberate discharges of oil into our marine waters, (often at our ports) and even though the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) is called upon to investigate these disasters, the culprits are never held accountable. On October 16, 2017, a massive oil spill occurred in Chaguaramas. Minister Franklyn Khan was reported as stating that there would be “civil and criminal prosecution”. Yet two years later there has not even been an update on whether the culprits were ever prosecuted.

According to the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP), which was debated at great length and approved by our Cabinet, the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) “must” create and maintain a fingerprinting database of ALL oil on ALL vessels operating in or entering into our territorial waters. Has the IMA done this? Is this plan just another lip service while our fishery and our health are compromised every day? If this plan has faced the rigour of Cabinet, then should it not be respected and be made law?

Will the IMA ever collect samples of this spilled oil for fingerprint analysis to determine the source? If this IMA kept this database, the culprits could be immediately identified and enforcement action would have already been initiated with ease. Furthermore, the NOSCP requires that oil booms be strategically placed around the spill to prevent the spread of the hydrocarbon, yet photo images show that the booms were placed around other nearby vessels to prevent the oil from damaging them.

Given the unregulated and regular occurrence of oil spills at all of our ports, why are we now further exposing La Brea to more hydrocarbon contamination, and the local residents to more Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) by commissioning another major port there? Should we not first properly regulate our marine operations before expanding the risks of toxic hydrocarbon contamination?

On April 23, 2017, after the Tank 70 rupture, a Venezuelan vessel with three medics on board who were unaware of the spill became trapped in the oil and their engines stalled. This resulted in the death of these three Venezuelan citizens. In this instance, given the fact that the oil was allowed to escape the Port of Spain harbour resulting in a large body of oil floating into the Gulf of Paria, have any marine warnings yet been issued for our seafarers? Will any compensation be paid to fishers whose nets or engines will be damaged if it comes into contact with this spilled oil?

The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 1990) is clear when it dictates a strict liability standard for damage from oil spills and establishes criminal sanctions including mandatory incarceration for the irresponsible and negligent culprits ($10,000 TTD and twelve months in imprisonment). Is the law being differently enforced for high profile and well networked companies?

FFOS calls on the EMA to make public the source of this oil spill and the responsible culprits, and calls on our prime minister to ensure that there is criminal and civil prosecution of these identified violators.

When the government turns a blind eye and allows even the smallest of laws to be broken every law in every corner of the country is weakened.

Gary Aboud
Corporate Secretary
Fishermen and Friends of the Sea

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