Environmental activists are calling for action over a stranded oil tanker holding 1.3 million barrels of oil off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago.
The ship, Nabarima, is a Venezuelan oil tanker used to contain crude oil and operated by an Italian energy company. If the ship does leak or sink, the spill would be five times worse than the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 — the two biggest oil spills in history.
While Trinidad and Tobago officials announced Wednesday that there was "no imminent risk of tilting or sinking" with "minimum risk of an oil spill at this time," according to Vox, activists and experts are still calling for proactive measures to be taken by local governments.
Gary Aboud, the corporate secretary of the organization Fisherman and Friends of the Sea (FFOST), posted a video on YouTube on Oct. 17 calling for increased awareness about the state of the Nabarima.
Aboud traveled on a small dinghy to the Nabarima on Oct. 16 to get video footage of the tilting ship. In the video, he explained that “personal risks are outweighed by public interest in this instance.”
Aboud’s video showed the ship sharply tilted and only supported by anchor chains keeping it stable. “It’s not enough,” Aboud said in the video. The 2020 hurricane seasons have caused 23 storms in the region already, and FFOST fears that extreme weather could topple the ship.
The Nabarima has been permanently moored in the Corocoro oil field in the Gulf of Paria, a semi-enclosed body of water between Trinidad and Venezuela, according to the Maritime Executive.
Typically, oil is stored in ships like the Nabarima before being transported to tankers that can transport it around the world. However, embargoes and sanctions on Venezuela after the re-election of President Nicolás Maduro mean that Venezuela cannot sell its oil.
Consequently, the Nabarima is holding an unprecedented amount of oil.
On Aug. 30, Eudis Girot, the head of the Unitary Federation of Petroleum Workers of Venezuela, shared images showing that the ship was taking on water in the lower levels on Twitter.
In the tweet, Girot explained that the ship was “in very poor condition,” and had 9 feet of water onboard.
SE HUNDE NABARIMA es una plataforma de almacenamiento tiene 1300000 bls de petroleo a bordo a punto de derramarse y causar una terrible catástrofe mundial desde golfo de Paria y el Caribe.— Eudis Girot (@EudisGirot) August 30, 2020
Condiciones paupérrimas y profundo deterioro, cubierta inferior y equipos 3 mts bajo agua pic.twitter.com/U5WQZM2GPs
Aboud told Global Citizen that if the ship does spill, the entire Caribbean region will be affected.
“The marine environment included many coral outcrops and reefs which will all be decimated,” he said. “Ecosystems will collapse, and biodiversity will decrease.”
The Caribbean marine and coastal environments are one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world and are home to 10% of the world’s coral reefs, 1,400 species of fish and marine mammals, and extensive coastal mangroves.
Out of the seven species of marine turtles worldwide, five of them are found in the Caribbean waters, Aboud said.
However, the entire Caribbean ecosystem is in immediate danger as the chemical components of the oil are poisonous to most animals.
Animals can ingest or inhale the oil. Oil can also smother small species of fish or invertebrates and coat feathers and fur of birds and mammals. Even if only one species is affected by the oil, the entire ecosystem in the Caribbean will be disrupted.
People in the Caribbean also depend on marine diversity themselves. The Gulf of Paria currently supports over 50,000 fishers and coastal residents, and 70% of all seafood is caught in the Gulf.
If the oil spills “our fisherfolk will be pauperized and all supporting fishery workers such as fish vendors, net repair personnel, fish cleaners, boat repair, and builder will all be displaced,” Aboud said.
Oil spills also have long term effects as they are often result in a decline in tourism, reduced property values, and business closures. A study by the Gorgie Strait Alliance found that residents affected by oil spills are more likely to struggle with job losses, health impacts, and legal compensation battles that put increased pressure on health and social services.
Aboud added that Caribbean tourism would be destroyed if the Nabarima does spill. At a time when tourism industries are already struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, further economic impacts could be devastating to Caribbean communities.
FFOST is calling for Caribbean countries to join together in order to prevent the Nabarima spill but also to have plans in place in case an oil spill in the region does occur.
“If a spill occurs it will affect all of the Caribbean islands as well as the neighboring countries,” Aboud said. “So it is in the best interest of each country that this unified approach is adopted.”