Fishers and environmentalists expressed outrage this week over what they called the inadequate response by Trinidad and Tobago's government and one of the country's leading fossil fuel companies to the latest of hundreds of reported oil spills there in recent years.
"What is going to happen to the fisherfolk? What will be the environmental impacts, and what will this do to fishing in the Gulf?"
—Imitiaz Khan, Carli Bay Fishing Association
Earlier this week Trinidad and Tobago's Environmental Management Authority (EMA), Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries (MEEI), and Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) announced they were investigating the spill, which Paria Fuel Trading Company Limited said originated from a leak in a pipeline near its Pointe-a-Pierre refinery last weekend, according to the Trinidad & Tobago Guardian.
EMA officials said containment measures and booms were deployed in order to mitigate the accident, and that vessels were being used to break up the oil coating the water's surface.
Gary Aboud, corporate secretary of the advocacy group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS), disputed claims by the government and Paria Fuel Trading Company. Earlier, Aboud posted videos of the spill, including one in which he cleans a bird slicked in oil, and another showing him dipping his hands into the blackened water before bringing them up completely covered in viscous crude.
"It's like a porridge," Aboud says in the video. "We have a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Paria right now... All day long we have been calling the IMA, the EMA, the Ministry of Energy—no response. The oil continues to flow."
"This oil causes cancer," Aboud continues. "It's so ridiculous. Fishermen can't get any compensation. The fishery is collapsing."
Instead of collecting and cleaning up the oil, Aboud accuses Paria Fuel Trading Company of "driving around and chopping it up" in a boat, "so that it will sink and continue to do damage. When you break the oil up, it sinks and goes to the ocean bed, where it will continue to degrade and get into the food chain."
"It's a sea of oil," laments Aboud. "Please share this video and let the whole country see."
In a statement reported by Loop, Aboud said: "We are calling on the authorities to make public the cause of the spill, volume, nature of the hydrocarbon spilled, and those who are responsible. Furthermore, pray that our government [and] EMA act in the interest of our environment and prosecute this polluter."
"There have been in excess of 377 oil spills since 2015 and no one has ever been charged or prosecuted," said Aboud. "Every drop of hydrocarbon has an ever-lasting impact on our marine ecosystem."
According to FFOS, there have actually been 498 reported spills on land and in the sea since 2018. These rarely draw international attention, although last October, a listing Venezuelan tanker carrying—but not spilling—1.3 million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Paria made headlines around the world.
FFOS program director Lisa Premchand told Britain's The Guardian that her group saw no evidence that Paria Fuel Trading Company was using booms to contain the spill.
"Through our drone imagery, there were no booms in the Gulf of Paria around this spill to contain the oil from spreading even further," she said. "It takes years and years for oil to degrade. There is a buildup of chemicals in our water. Our gulf is becoming more polluted over time with the increase in intensity of oil spills."
Imitiaz Khan, president of the Carli Bay Fishing Association, told the Daily Express that he was speechless when he viewed video footage of the new spill.
"I was wondering what is going to happen to the fisherfolk? What will be the environmental impacts, and what will this do to fishing in the Gulf?" he said. "The Gulf is the nursery of our fisheries, and with the amount of oil we were seeing and the way they were handling it, there is a grave concern."
"Instead of containing it, there is a video where their vessels are spinning in the oil to break it up, and that is not the way it should be dealt with," Khan continued. "We had a similar incident in 2018 in Orange Valley, and it negatively affected fishermen as fish prices went down because a lot of people were concerned about eating fish from the Gulf. Seventy-five percent of the fishing in this country happens in the Gulf, so this is a major concern for us."
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams - Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community and was authored by Brett Wilkins.