The Nabarima oil tanker

Disaster in the making: The Nabarima oil tanker containing approximately 1.3 million barrels of crude oil off Venezuela’s coast in the Gulf of Paria. —Photo courtesy Gary Aboud/FFOS

The situation with the FSO Nabarima oil storage vessel may be a wake-up call to consider developing a commercial port outside the Gulf of Paria that can be a fall-back position in the event the Gulf cannot be accessed.

This was the opinion of president of the Shipping Association of Trinidad and Tobago Garry Dalla Costa, who recommended the NEC port in Galeota as an alternative.

In a statement yesterday, he said maritime professionals had different views on the vessel owned by oil company PDVSA and anchored in the south-western Gulf of Paria.

The vessel has tilted and is regarded as a potential oil spill disaster waiting to happen.

“While a port in Toco is being developed it is designed to accommodate ferries and yachts. There is no room for expansion to accommodate commercial vessels. This may not be the best option,” Dalla Costa stated. “It is necessary to focus on our policies and threat levels in Trinidad, and to have contingencies in place in the event of an unfortunate incident.”

He said some professionals were of the view that there is no imminent threat.

But he said other feel that if the vessel is moved out of its habitat, ie, not afloat, “a number of things can go awry as the vessel is not designed to be immersed or to sit on the bottom”.

The vessel is a purpose-built floating storage ship equipped with a double hull. As such the cargo tanks should be protected if she settles on the bottom, Dalla Costa said.

He said: “Many articles have been written about the possible damage to the marine life in the event of an oil spill. This can be catastrophic. However, even more devastating is that the Trinidad economy could be completely shut down. A major oil spill in the Gulf of Paria will reach both the north and south channels into the Gulf and will circulate, exacerbating the situation as the tide ebbs and flows.”

Among other issues, it can result in the following, he said:

1. Shutdown of all marine activity in the Gulf. This includes port closure.

2. Ships will not sail through an ocean of oil so all trade stops, no cargo or fuel can be shipped

3. Likewise, all ferry services to Tobago will be stopped.

4. water taxi operations will cease

5. Besides commercial ports, all leisure activities will cease with severe damage to anything afloat.

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