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Disaster SOS

By Richardson Dhalai Monday, December 23 2013

An international oil spill management company is expected to spearhead the national response to several disastrous oil spills following Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine’s activation of the highest level of the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP), tier three level, yesterday.

The level three activation was invoked by Ramnarine following a tour of the Coffee and Carrat Shed beaches, La Brea yesterday. The NOSCP gives the Ministry of Energy the leadership role in the clean-up efforts and also enables Petrotrin to access foreign expertise to assist in the clean-up of the beach and the surrounding areas.

The NOSCP was approved by Cabinet on January 31, 2013 and was designed to mitigate the effect of oil spills on land and in marine areas across Trinidad and Tobago by setting specific standards for oil spill equipment stockpiles, establishing time frames for oil spill response and increasing collaboration among partner agencies.

Ramnarine, who was accompanied by Tourism Minister and Fyzabad MP Chandresh Sharma, and Petrotrin president Khalid Hassanali, described the situation as “very serious” saying Petrotrin’s foreign partner, Clean Caribbean & Americas Limited (CCA), had already been alerted with personnel expected to arrive in the country sometime today, while its equipment would arrive several days later by air from its base at Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

According to the CCA website, Petrotrin is listed as a full partner. Its track record includes being one of the primary responders which provided airborne dispersant spraying services in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Ramnarine said Petrotrin had advised him that approximately three to four miles of the shoreline were affected by the oil spill.

“What I have been told too by Petrotrin is that they have already removed 700 barrels of oil from the beach,” Ramnarine said, adding, “I’ve also been told by the exploration and production vice-president and his team that they have not seen a decline in production at Trinmar so the mystery of course remains, where is this oil coming from.”

Regarding the foreign assistance, Ramnarine said Petrotrin paid an “annual retainer fee” to the Florida company and pointed out that they have cutting edge equipment.

“If you would notice, we are using shovels, and backhoes and vacuum trucks on this oil spill and that will take a very long time to clean up and I want this resolved very quickly,” Ramnarine said. On the source of the oil spill, he said not only was the La Brea oil spill a mystery but also the other two spills at Petrotrin’s Trinmar oil platforms.

He said residents had not asked to be relocated as the clean-up continues.

While there have been no other incidents, Ramnarine said the issue of security at unmanned platforms had to be addressed, although it was a norm in the global industry.

“We can’t put people on every single platform, there are over 37 platforms in Trinmar. You can’t put people on every one and even on the East Coast where you have EOG and BG, there are unmanned platforms there.”

“In the Gulf of Mexico, there are unmanned platforms, some of these platforms are even very small, you really don’t have much room to house people on it so unmanned platforsm are a part of the industry globally,” he added.

He said Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was kept updated daily and had “expressed as her primary concern, the health and the safety of the residents of this area as a first thing we should look after.

“Health, Safety and Environment persons are here and medical staff for any sort of support the villagers would need,” he pointed out.

Sharma said the concerns expressed by fishermen and residents about not being able to earn an income due to the oil spill was being addressed Government.

“The fishermen have been communicated with, they certainly have some needs that must be attended to cause we have to return them to normalacy in the shortest possible time. In the interim when they cannot go out and fish, they will have expenses that they will have to meet. The Government certainly will be looking at that because they will have families to take care of. We will make sure and Petrotrin as a corporate citizen will also be taking care of that,” Sharma said.

When Newsday visited the seaside community yesterday, residents seemed to have grown accustomed to the workings of the oil recovery crews at the beach as several sat underneath homes or on the roadsides as workers using heavy equipment such as backhoes removed the oil soaked sands.

There were also rings of oil booms around large swaths of sand which was covered in oil while workers used vacuum hoses to suck the oil and sand into large trucks for removal.

There were also no visible signs of dead fish or other sea creatures such as crabs or birds on the beach. Errol Lee, 76, said he had lived at the beach front community for some 30 years and had never seen that type of devastation.

“The birds and other animals not coming here because they can smell the oil,” he said, adding the residents had been advised against the lighting of fires and were provided meals by Petrotrin.

Petrotrin corporate communications officer, George Commissiong, said the company had retained the services of a caterer to supply meals to approximately 100 residents.

Yesterday, fishermen of Fullerton, Cedros demanded compensation during a meeting with Petrotrin officials. Emotions ran high but seemed to cool when assurances of compensation were given.

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