A three-member team of experts was yesterday dispatched from Trinidad and Tobago to Venezuela to examine and investigate the condition of the FSO Nabarima – a floating oil storage vessel said to be dangerously close to tipping over and spilling its cargo into the Caribbean Sea.
The mission was confirmed by Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne and Energy Minister Franklin Khan yesterday. Khan said he was expecting to receive a report by today on the vessel’s condition.
In an interview with Guardian Media at a trade agreement signing between T&T and Chile at his St Clair office, Browne said his ministry had been trying for some time to get permission to examine the vessel. At the time, he said he had “just received word” that the request was granted and the team had already landed in Venezuela.
The Nabarima has caused international concern for several weeks after photos were released by workers of water seeping into its engine room, causing it to list.
However, Venezuelan oil company PDVSA released statements in the weeks that followed claiming the vessel, which has a cargo of approximately 1.3 million barrels of crude oil, was righted and the water had been pumped out.
But in a fact-finding mission last Friday, environmental watchdog group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) took their own photos and videos of the vessel, which was seen tilting dangerously to one side. Following the release of the FFOS photos, the Ministry of Energy sent out a release stating requests had been sent to Venezuelan authorities for T&T to be allowed to send a contingent to inspect the vessel.
Yesterday, Browne said the Government was deeply concerned about the vessel’s condition and had made requests to assess it independently, despite assurances from the Venezuelan government it was stable.
“There were many delays on the Venezuelan side to achieving this but I am pleased to let you know I was informed a short while ago that our expert inspection is currently in Venezuela, having received permission and authorisation for ingress into the country and embarking on the vessel itself. They are currently there, have commenced their scientific studies and will be presenting a report to the Minister of Energy and Energy Industries in short order,” Browne said.
He said he was hopeful that in the coming week he will have information for the people of T&T about the vessel’s condition.
Browne said the team was assembled by the Energy Ministry and his ministry’s role was to ensure doors were opened for the team in Venezuela.
Asked if knew whether an oil spill model had been completed by the Energy Ministry, Browne said, “This is a ministry that takes it’s responsibility seriously. T&T is not new to the field of petrochemicals, the Ministry of Energy has considerable experience and on an ongoing basis has been doing modelling and preparation for spills within T&T and scenarios in our waters.”
He said the report from the team will determine what the next steps should be.
Environmental company Coastal Dynamics Limited has prepared preliminary oil spill models for the FSO Nabarima but was hesitant to share the actual model yesterday, as director Frank Teelucksingh said he did not want the public to be misled by the data.
Oil spill modelling is used to predict which areas oil would contaminate in the event of a spill based on oceanographic and meteorological patterns in the areas likely to be affected.
In the model done by Coastal Dynamics, Teelucksingh said in the short term, oil spilled from the Nabarima showed a high likelihood of being transported to the north and northwest into Venezuelan waters.
“In the longer term, such a spill can have catastrophic effects on the entire Gulf of Paria, including Trinidad and Tobago, as impacts will not be isolated to any specific location,” he said.
“This is based on the prevailing oceanographic and meteorological patterns within the Gulf of Paria, which is affected by the water depth, tides, winds, basin shape, salinity and temperature and the mean flow. This means that there is potential for any spill to become entrained in currents that form the recirculation cells that bring water masses transiting the mid-Gulf area towards our shoreline along the west coast of Trinidad.”
When the possibility of the vessel sinking was figured into the calculations, Teelucksingh said there was a high potential for the spill to move eastwards as it approaches the Dragon’s Mouth (Northwest peninsula, Trinidad) and become entrained in the circulation that can transport oil along the west coast of Trinidad, southwards to La Brea and Cedros.
However, he stressed that more in-depth modelling needed to be completed to determine all the areas that might be affected if the oil is spilled.
“We, emphasise, however, that any oil spill trajectory modelling should be used only as an indication of one potential scenario of where the oil may go for a particular set of oceanographic and meteorological conditions,” Teelucksingh said.