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Trinidad and Tobago declares ‘national emergency’ as oil spill from mysterious ship pollutes beaches

Office of the Chief Secretary/Reuters

An oil spill on the island of Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago, is seen in this photo published on February 10, 2024.



CNN

An overturned ship has caused a massive oil spill along the coast of Trinidad and Tobago, in what the Caribbean country’s prime minister called a “national emergency” on Sunday.

The spill occurred on February 7 off the southern coast of the island of Tobago, according to the country’s Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM). About 15 kilometers (9 miles) of the coastline “is now blackened,” the agency said in a statement Saturday.

Photos from the scene show recovery workers wading through thick black mud, with large areas of the beach covered in oil. Several government agencies, including at least 1,000 volunteers, worked to control the spill.

Prime Minister Keith Rowley told a news conference on Sunday that “the situation is not under control.” The origins of the ship have not yet been identified, he added.

“This is a national emergency and so it will have to be funded as an extraordinary expense,” Rowley said, adding, “we do not know the scope and scale of what will be necessary.”

Authorities installed booms – floating barriers – to prevent the spill from spreading to other areas, said Farley Augustine, chief secretary of the Tobago Legislative Assembly. Authorities also dispatched divers to try to plug the leak, but without success.

“What has to happen is we have to find a way to extract now every bit of oil that is inside the ship, bearing in mind, as we have reiterated, that we do not “We don’t know the schematics of the ship,” Augustine told reporters.

CNN has contacted the Prime Minister’s office for comment.

Office of the Chief Secretary/Reuters

An oil spill on the island of Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago, is seen in this photo published on February 10, 2024.

Akash Boodan/AP

Workers clean up an oil spill on Rockly Bay beach in Scarborough, Trinidad and Tobago, February 10, 2024. The origin of the ship causing the spill is not yet known.

Clement Williams/AFP/Getty Images

The oil spill, photographed on February 10, covered about 15 kilometers (about 9 miles) of coastline with black residue.

“We don’t know if it is a cargo ship, an oil tanker or a barge because only the keel of the ship is visible. And its identifying physical characteristics are in water that we can’t get into right now,” Rowley said Sunday.

“But we know that it appears to have ruptured after making contact here and is leaking some sort of oil that is contaminating the water and the coastline,” he added.

Residents in the Lambeau area have reported a constant foul odor coming from the spill, leaving some to worry about their health, according to local media.

Augustine, chief secretary of the Tobago Legislative Assembly, advised people with respiratory illnesses to use masks and “move around themselves or find ways to mitigate that”.

The spill occurred during the Carnival season, one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions.

“The best part of Tobago’s economy is its tourism, so it’s important that we are conscious of not exposing the tourism product to these kinds of things, and because that has happened, we need to contain it,” said the Prime Minister. said.

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