Another Legal Battle for Transparency
On October 16th, 2020, after three months of unanswered appeals, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) visited the Nabarima, a Venezuelan Fuel Storage and Offloading Vessel, which was listing dangerously, threatening to spill 1.4M barrels of crude oil into our Gulf of Paria and Caribbean Sea.
FFOS exposed misinformation and propaganda being released by the Maduro Regime which was gullibly endorsed by our Trinidadian Government.
On October 19th, 2020, a team of local “experts” visited the vessel and reported :
1) The Vessel had been stabilized.
2) The Oil was already being removed.
3) That a second visit had been arranged in a month’s time.
In spite of these assurances, in January of 2021, international reports published by Bloomberg and Reuters contradicted our TT Government’s report indicating that the oil removal process had only just begun in January 2021 and not in October 2020 as reported by our Honorable Minister Khan.
A good leader must act transparently and accountably. Has this second promised inspection (for November 2020) been cancelled and if so by whom and why? Is the Nabarima safe and stabilized? What is the true risk status of the Nabarima today? Why is it taking our Government so long to meaningfully communicate with a neighbouring country? Why has there been this silence and secrecy in a matter of such grave public and environmental concern?
In the past two years, two major oil spills have occurred in Venezuela, (i) in the Falcon State and (ii) at the El Palito Refinery in the Carabobo State. With the increase in US sanctions on Venezuela and little-to-no maintenance of dated oil infrastructure, the situation worsens, environmental disasters are becoming more likely, with some international publications referring to Venezuela as an “Environmental Time Bomb.”
The risks of this 1.4M barrel spill will have a disastrous impact on our Caribbean tourism product. While it is difficult to quantify the economic impact, it is a fact that several Caribbean economies rely on marine ecotourism. The Nabarima contains five times more crude oil than the EXXON VALDEZ (1989), the effects of which are still being felt to this date.
In our respectful view, the Rowley and Maduro Regime’s obviously slow and disjointed response in addressing the Nabarima fiasco is representative of the failure of the Bilateral Oil Spill Contingency Plan (1989), which allegedly outlines the parameters of a joint response to spills in the Gulf of Paria.
FFOS via a Freedom of Information Application had requested a copy of this document to determine: what are the joint procedures, if the procedures were followed, what are the mechanisms for the sharing of information and resources between our Countries and any likely cause of the breakdown in communication during the Nabarima threat. Sadly, our request was refused because the Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs believes that disclosing the document would prejudice our relationship with Venezuela.
Consequently, FFOS have taken the decision to instruct our Attorneys to serve onto the Ministry of Foreign Affairs a pre action protocol letter in the hope that the Ministry will release a redacted version of the document. FFOS do not wish to engage in litigation however we have a duty to do what is right to protect our natural capital inventory and so we will persist in fighting for the public interest regardless of the sacrifice or danger.