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Govt beefs up security

By Newsday Staff Tuesday, December 24 2013

Government is increasing security at all State-owned energy facilities following a series of oil spills from Petrotrin fields that have scores of communities facing a “black Christmas” as thick black sludge remains settled around homes and on shorelines in South Trinidad.

The decision was taken following a National Security Council (NSC) meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), St Clair yesterday. Persad-Bissessar is due to tour affected communities today, her office said in a statement issued after the NSC meeting on the environmental disaster.

La Brea and Chatham are reportedly affected the worst by the oil spills.

The statement noted that while Petrotrin is investigating the spills, the cause is yet to be determined and so Government has decided to “protect its facilities within the energy sector”.

“Stricter security measures will be in place at all energy installations, and access won’t be as easy as before,” the OPM said. “A decision was taken at today’s (yesterday) meeting to increase security around installations in the energy sector, both on land and at sea.”

Even as Government beefs up its energy security, one of Petrotrin’s lease operators, Trinity Oil, has called in the police to investigate the spillage that occurred in the Rancho Quemado field.

“They are of the view that that was sabotage,” Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine told reporters yesterday about Trinity Oil’s referral of the spillage to the police.

According to Petrotrin officials, officials of Trinity Oil on Saturday morning discovered a number of valves had apparently been opened overnight.

There have been claims that the spills may be linked to reprisal activities over the crack-down on illegal diesel bunkering. Ramnarine yesterday distanced himself from blaming any one specific group or actor.

He also could not give any estimates of the amount of oil that had leaked thus far, the cost of measures to contain the leak and the time-frame within which the spills would be contained.

Ramnarine said Petrotrin’s foreign partner, Clean Caribbean & Americas Limited (CCA), had been engaged and two officials from the United Kingdom and two officials from the United States were due to arrive last night. He said two cargo aircraft landed with skimmers and booms at Piarco yesterday. He said the time taken to contain the spillage would be determined by the experts arriving, but expected time-frame would be “much shorter” than he had originally envisaged because of the arrival of special equipment.

Ramnarine said the situation remained at tier three level, according to the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan, which indicates the problem requires international assistance/equipment. He did not state what factors meant the spill could not be contained using local resources.

A committee had been set up to oversee an investigation into the cause(s) of the spills, which includes Ramnarine, Minister of the Environment Ganga Singh and Minister of National Security Gary Griffith. Other international experts may also be a part of the investigatory committee.

Ramnarine said the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan was approved by Cabinet three months ago. He called on all stakeholders to be mindful of the need for security given the importance of energy assets to the country. Griffith later told reporters that the investigative committee was “looking at all the different scenarios pertaining to the oil spill”.

“We are actually looking at what may have caused it and putting mechanisms in place to prevent further situations similar to this from occurring again,” Griffith said as he toured downtown Port-of-Spain with security officials yesterday.

“We have a security operational structure in place now, I would prefer not to mention what we intend to do for obvious reasons, but what I can say is that we will be continuing to monitor the situation and continue evaluating it as we go along,” Griffith said. He said the Defence Force, Coast Guard and Police Service were also part of the process.

Chief of Defence Staff Kenrick Maharaj, who was part of the tour in the capital, said a few years ago the energy sector put in place an initiative “to ensure that all of the key stakeholders in the sector, including the Defence Force, are on the same sheet of music in respect to the standards that are required for operation and for safety and security.

“As a result we have a strong security presence in the area now both on the maritime aspect, with help from the coast guard, and on land,” Maharaj said.

He welcomed the technical assistance that has been requested from overseas.

“The issue now is for us to continue to be on top of what is taking place now, and to learn from this and to use this incident as the basis of us being more preventive, because we haven’t had a history of incidents such as these (oil spills),” he said.

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