Abandoned Tanker ‘Nabarima’ About to Spill 55 Million Gallons of oil into the Caribbean

Paul Pinkerton
 
Credit: Fishermen and Friends of the Sea
Credit: Fishermen and Friends of the Sea

Is abandoned Venezuelan ship FSO Nabarima about to flood the Caribbean Sea with gallons of oil? After nearly 2 years, fears are mounting that the vessel will tilt and possibly even flip into the drink through neglect.

 

Gary Aboud, founder of Fishermen and Friends of the Sea, describes it to WMNF as an “accident that’s happening in slow motion”. Nabarima contains one million plus barrels of product, equalling around 55 gallons. Enough to spell disaster for both the environment and people’s livelihoods in the Caribbean.

Recent developments have seen 3 investigators study the tanker up close, after months of pressure from activists and commentators. Speaking to the Trinidad & Tobago Guardian, Energy Minister Franklin Khan reported their findings, stating there’s “very little minimal if any risk of tilting or sinking”.

Caribbean Sea. Credit: Fishermen and Friends of the Sea

Caribbean Sea. Credit: Fishermen and Friends of the Sea

An engine room flood in August caused some alarm but the “double hulls are intact”, with no sign of oil from the containment tank in bilge water. Quoted by Loop News, Khan says, “all systems appeared to be functional.” The tilting – or “listing” – was noticeable from July.

The outlet mentions Dr Amery Browne MP, Foreign Minister. He says no photos were permitted, though Venezuelan reps took some images that will apparently be sent later. Browne is Minister for multi-national Caribbean coalition CARICOM. Activists are reaching out to them to organize against any spill.

Location of FSO Nabarima. NordNordWest – CC BY-SA 3.0

Location of FSO Nabarima. NordNordWest – CC BY-SA 3.0

The Nabarima sits in the Gulf of Paria between the two countries. As reported by Vox – and said last month – Trinidad and Tobago needed “permission from Venezuela to have a delegation board the ship and assess the danger”.

How did the tanker wind up ditched? As WMNF writes, co-owners PDVSA and ENI were selling the oil to Citgo. The companies are Venezuelan state-owned, Italian and American respectively. When sanctions were announced for Venezuela from the US the deal and vessel went into limbo.

FSO Nabarima started life in 2005, built by Samsung Heavy Industries. It was ordered by ConocoPhillips, who used to control the Corocoro oil field. The state began running things a couple of years later, resulting in political tensions that continue to this day.

In mid-October Aboud posted a video of his own trip to the tanker, measuring a tilt of 25 degrees on the starboard (right) side. Greta Thunberg was among those who responded to the upload. The Trinidad and Tobago team went in a few days later. Their US Embassy issued a statement late last week, insisting Venezuela take responsibility.

Credit: Fishermen and Friends of the Sea

Credit: Fishermen and Friends of the Sea

In a further development, the oil is currently being offloaded. But there’s a problem. The investigation team believes the craft involved, PDVSA Aframax ship ‘Icaro’, doesn’t have the capacity to remove the product quickly enough. The repeat trips are going to take over a month.

Another visit is recommended in a month’s time to check on the tanker’s condition as operations get underway. Speaking to Vox, oceanographer Frank Teelucksingh urges authorities to plan ahead. He refers to precautionary measures such as Booms, “floating curtains made of plastic” that could “encircle the vessel before it sinks”.

A major worry is that if the oil goes into the inlet it will pollute the South Caribbean and wreck the local area. Sea life and the economies that rely on it face possible catastrophe. There’s also a likelihood the slick could travel into the Gulf of Mexico.

Energy Minister Khan comments that Trinidad & Tobago and Venezuela have “an oil spill contingency plan”. He adds they were “almost bullied into invoking this plan”. (from Loop News)

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Quoted by WMNF, Aboud puts it more colorfully: “If it goes down we are all f*****” he declares. “There’s no nice way to say what will happen to us.”

 
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