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One year to recover

By Richardson Dhalai Tuesday, December 31 2013

click on pic to zoom in
Oil catch: Fisherman Balram Ramkaran stoops in sludge, holding an oil covered crab on an oily sand bar at Dow Mangrove, Aripero along the South coastl...
Oil catch: Fisherman Balram Ramkaran stoops in sludge, holding an oil covered crab on an oily sand bar at Dow Mangrove, Aripero along the South coastl...

Oil Spill Response representative, Brian Gove, has observed that while the clean-up at Coffee, Carrat Shed and Point Sab beaches may last another three months, the environment may take between six months and one year to recover from the effects of an oil spill which occurred on December 19.

Gove, who along with Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine was speaking to reporters at Point Sab beach, La Brea, also pointed out that the oil being washed ashore was not a new spill but was part of an older spill that was now being disturbed during the clean-up.

Gove, whose team arrived from the United States on Christmas Eve, said it took a couple of days to locate the bulk of the fuel oil, an area east of Point Sab.

“We have about two miles of what looks like bunker C oil on the beach and this is what is causing the recurrent oil spills,” Gove said. Bunker C fuel oil is the fuel used in ships and is the heaviest part of the barrel of crude oil which is refined.

“The oil itself is remobilising from where it is and coming down the coast, so we are aggressively picking up that oil from the beach,” Gove said adding oil booms were placed to contain the spread of the oil.

“The two mile stretch, it’s gonna be a long road. I think we have two weeks ahead of us of heavy clean-up and after maybe three months for lighter cleaning,” he said.

Asked about the impact on the environment, Gove said, “I would say once we get the bulk product up and do the light cleaning, perhaps a couple of months, beyond that we are talking six months to a year for the environment to fully recover.” Asked to compare the clean-up locally with previous spills he had been involved with, Gove said, “This one is a little bit challenging in that we only have the one access road and it’s quite a bit of oil two miles up the stretch. Usually we have a little more access, however we are taking advantage of the natural collection points, this being one of them here at Point Sab.”

In agreement was Petrotrin onsite commander, Leeloy Chinwing, who described the oil as a “mat” which was very viscous and had begun moving down the shoreline after clean-up operations began on the two-mile stretch of beach.

“We are working on Coffee Beach and Carrat Beach where the houses are and when we started to work this beach with the equipment, it started to disperse it, and that is the oil you will see coming down slowly,” Chinwing said.

“The oil is very viscous, it stays at the edge of the shore and just sits on the sand, it doesn’t go out into the deep,” he said, adding, “the oil hasn’t reached the mangrove, it is about three feet from the edge of the mangrove. No oil has gone into the mangrove.”

He too agreed the oil retrieval was difficult as there were no access road to reach the beach and the only other way was along the shoreline. Chinwing also stated local contractors have employed 65 resident community workers at Point Sab; ten workers at Carrat Shed Beach and 28 workers at Coffee Beach.

He said the company had about four off road trucks with five or six excavators and eight backhoes and several wheel tractors and front loaders.

Meanwhile, following a meeting with the heads of fishing associations throughout Trinidad under a small coconut grove, president of the La Brea Fisherfolk Association, Alvin La Borde said they were requesting a meeting today at 9 am with Ramnarine and Petrotrin president Khalid Hassanali to discuss the oil spill, seismic surveys and compensation for fishermen.

“We need to get some answers and we need to deal with the compensation package that we are asking for and we are not accepting this ex-gratia payment they are talking about,” La Borde said, adding all of the fishing communities along the Gulf of Paria would be affected by the oil spill.

He also questioned the chemicals used in the clean-up saying we were not told whether they may have an impact on the environment and fish stocks.

“There are two chemicals they are using, when these two chemicals come together, what is the effect on the environment and when these fish take this chemical would we be able to put it on a stall for people to take to their family,” he said.

Fishermen and Friends of the Sea secretary Gary Aboud also called for unity among fisherfolk saying while they were small contributors to the national GDP, a significant number were employed in the fishing industry.

Another fisherman said they had received payments for the time lost from December 19 to December 24 and negotiations were presently taking place for the rest of the days of the month.

La Borde also called on Ramnarine and Petrotrin to halt a seismic survey due to start tomorrow, January 1.

ILP interim political leader, Jack Warner, also visited La Brea yesterday and described the clean-up as seemingly “getting worse” and not better as new reports of oil spills have emerged.

“How can you have an industry that has made no provision for something like this?” he asked. “There seems to be no concern about how to contain this or about the people in the area.”

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