Top News

Tilting tanker off coast of Venezuela could spill 1.3 million barrels of oil into Atlantic

The Nabarima floating storage and offloading (FSO) facility, operated by the Petrosucre joint venture between Venezuelan state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela and Italy's Eni, is seen tilted in the Paria Gulf, between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago, October 16, 2020.
The Nabarima floating storage and offloading (FSO) facility, operated by the Petrosucre joint venture between Venezuelan state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela and Italy's Eni, is seen tilted in the Paria Gulf, between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago, October 16, 2020.

Fisherman in the Caribbean are calling for a state of emergency to be declared, after evidence emerged of an sinking oil tanker off the coast of Venezuela, threatening to spill over 1.3 million barrels of oil into the ocean.

The Nabarima, a Venezuelan tanker partly operated by Italian energy giant ENI, was first noticed to be tilting in July. By August, crews discovered that water was leaking into the ship, threatening to sink it.

She is in “very poor condition,” tweeted Eudis Girot, the head of the Unitary Federation of Petroleum Workers of Venezeula on Aug. 31, warning that the tanker held about nine feet of water in her lower decks. Photos with the post showed flooding in various sections of the interior of the vessel.

Last month Gary Aboud, who represents the fishing community in Trinidad, got close enough to the tanker to show the gravity of the risk to the entire Southern Caribbean. “What we found was frightening,” Aboud said in a video posted online on Sept. 7.

The tanker appeared to be tilting at an angle of 25 degrees, Aboud said in the video, while pointing at the ship just a few feet away from him. Currently the ship is held in place by anchor chains, although it isn’t clear how strong the chains are, and how long they will be able to control the tanker. The chains “aren’t enough,” Aboud said, adding that poor weather could cause the tanker to flip.

The situation could also be exacerbated by a particularly active 2020 tropical cyclone season, which has already seen 28 cyclones, 11 hurricanes and four “major” hurricanes.

In his video, Aboud criticized Trinidad and Tobago government officials for a lack of response to the situation, which has now been ongoing for three months. An oil spill of this magnitude could wreck the livelihoods of over 50,000 local fisherman who rely on the sea, cause long term ecological harm to the biodiversity in the nearby coral reef, and pose a broader regional risk, Forbes reported.

“This requires national emergency,” Aboud said. “(I’m) calling on the government of Trinidad and Tobago to wake up and do something.”

International maritime reports have also been calling for action since early September, the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian reported, and government officials have asked for verification from Venezuelan officials on the status of the tanker.

In early September, Trinidad and Tobago Energy Minister Franklin Khan noted that initial reports from Venezuelan authorities described the vessel to be in upright and stable condition.

“The Energy Ministry through the Venezuelan Embassy has offered any assistance, technical or logistical to the Government of Venezuela that it may require. Also, the Minister of Energy is in contact with his Venezuelan counterpart for further updates as they become available,” a spokesman for Khan stated.

According to Khan, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela have a bilateral agreement which includes an oil spill contingency plan, “in the event of a genuine risk exists or an active spill occurs.” “This is the agreement that will govern the action of the Government,” he said.

Should the spill occur, it will be the fourth major oil spill from Venezuela in the past three months.

In early September, fisherman and experts confirmed that oil was leaking into the sea near Falcón State, in north-east Venezuela, from a cracked underwater pipeline linked to attempts to restart fuel production at a refinery.

The month before, photos showed beaches and mangroves around Moroccoy National Park, on the west-central Venezuelan coast, slicked in oil. The images quickly gained traction online before local officials said a clean up effort was taking place. Research released two weeks later by Simón Bolívar University attributed the oil spill to the incompetence of state authorities working at the nearby El Palito refinery, located 66 kilometres south of the park.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

Did this story inform or enhance your perspective on this subject?
1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

Recent Stories