T&T: Farley Accuses Govt Of Hiding Info On Oil Spill Vessel Wants Owners Of Solo Creed To Own Up, Pay Up

(TT GUARDIAN) – Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary Farley Augustine is demanding that the owner of the vessel which ran aground along the coast off the Cove come forward and take responsibility for the oil spill that has devastated the island’s shoreline and ecosystem.

At the same time, he is suggesting Government may have withheld critical information it had on the vessel early on and wants this cleared up.

The vessel, which was spotted spewing oil last Wednesday morning, was identified by the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard (TTCG) yesterday.

In a release, the Ministry of National Security said the TTCG confirmed the involvement of two vessels: a tug boat identified as Solo Creed and the overturned barge. The ministry said it was now working on identifying the vessels and their owners.

It said investigations showed the vessels were heading to Guyana and had passed through Panama but did not arrive as planned.

Guardian Media sent questions about Guyana’s involvement with the vessel to Guyana’s Ministry of Natural Resources PRO Makalia Prince.

She acknowledged the email last evening but had not sent responses up to press time.

During a media conference yesterday, Augustine said the THA was ready to talk compensation and expressed disappointment it took so long for someone to confirm the identity of the vessel.

“So you took that long to come forward and take ownership of this. This is your vessel, and you have not arrived in Tobago yet to sit with the people who have been part of this clean-up?” he said.

We have a lot of questions, and now is the best time to have those questions answered. We need to know the quantity and the material you were transporting, so we know what we have been dealing with, what we have been walking in, what we have been swimming in, what we have been trying to clean up from our shores.”

He added, “I want to know how much they would pay for this. You recognised that the tow cable was broken. You see it on all sorts of global news, and it took you this long to really come forward. We could have avoided so much, and even as we speak and contain the hydrocarbon in that area, the vessel continues to leak the substance.”

Augustine emphasised that the THA needs to know the capacity of the vessel and the volume of oil it was transporting, so that extraction can begin immediately to prevent further breaches of the shoreline and ecosystems.

“We were able to save our paradise because this situation should not result in a paradise lost, certainly not for Tobago. We need those responsible to come clean, and we need those responsible to know that they have to pay for this mess.”

While he thanked the ministry for releasing the vessel’s name, Augustine suggested Government may not have been forthright with the information it had on the vessel, saying he found it coincidental the information on its identity was made public shortly after he received it.

“The WhatsApp message I got last night was that they were carrying 5,000 metric tonnes of fuel. Is that true? It also said the owner of this vessel is actually one of those trying to purchase the refinery down in Point Fortin. Is that true?”

When asked if he was insinuating that the refinery deal may be linked to the vessel incident, Augustine said, “I tend not to operate in the world of speculation, I tend to operate with just the facts. I have laid out the facts as I have them, and I have also pointed out the obvious coincidence of me receiving information and someone asking me to look into this vessel.

“Then today, I see a press release confirming the data. Because there is some correlation, I am duty-bound, on behalf of Tobago, to ask those questions pointedly and openly.”

In response to another question, Augustine said the Office of the Chief Secretary may have been disrespected over the Government’s failure to send official correspondence to the THA regarding the vessel’s identity before releasing a public statement.

Meanwhile, the results of oil samples taken by the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) have not yet been returned to Tobago. However, the IMA’s team is expected to return tomorrow.

Until then, Augustine said the international company Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL), of which Trinidad and Tobago is a member, has a team in Tobago at no cost to the Government. The team began assessing the quality control of all affected areas soon after arriving on Monday night.

Although the island has received international help, Augustine noted that Tobago has not upgraded to a tier two level disaster. He described the collaboration with OSRL as a “first layer”, as the situation remains a national disaster.

As of last night, some of the oil had moved 88 km away from Tobago waters and was said to be close to threatening Grenada. Augustine said he was ready to put Caribbean neighbours who may be affected on alert.