Recent Oil Spill in Trinidad & Tobago Deemed a ‘National Emergency,’ Local Government Taking Immediate Action

By Ahmad Dagher


TRINIDAD & TOBAGO – A submerged ship just off the coast of Tobago, the smaller of the two islands, has been leaking oil since February 7. Prime Minister Keith Rowley has now dubbed it a “national emergency,” promising that the government plans to complete cleaning and rehabilitation efforts effectively.


The ship was found overturned and nearly completely submerged about 200m off the coast of the Cove Eco-Industrial Park. The identity of the ship and its origin remains unknown. What is known, however, is that it has been leaking some kind of hydrocarbon that has now flooded Tobago’s southern beaches and coastline.


Rowley has vowed to take quick action. “This is a national emergency and therefore it will have to be funded as an extraordinary expense… You have to find the money and prioritize. So this is [a] priority and we have to respond,” he said. 


Steps are now being taken to ensure that the oil doesn’t infect other areas of the country and coastline through the sea.


This isn’t the first time that the country has experienced this kind of disaster. In 1979, two oil tankers collided about 10 miles away from Tobago’s coast. This caused the biggest oil tanker spill in modern history, with 2.1 million barrels of oil spilled into the surrounding waters, and 50 lives claimed.


The dangers of oil spills, as exemplified by this case, have been an important driver of some of the green policies the Biden administration has been passing in the last three years. 


The Obama-era offshore drilling safety rules, recently reinstated in August 2023, serve as an example. These laws require oil rig officials to investigate and analyze any failures within three months of an incident, to have real-time drilling monitoring, and to abide by safety requirements for certain pieces of equipment. 


The laws were originally meant as a way to combat the possibility of another disastrous incident like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill from occurring. While these kinds of restrictions haven’t been popular internationally, in the wake of the recent oil spill in Trinidad and Tobago, similarly tighter restrictions may end up being put in place there as well. 


For now, however, short-term clean-up efforts are the focus of the local government.

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