The widespread public concern over the risk of a major oil spill in the Gulf of Paria from the stranded oil-laden FSO Nabarima is an indicator of the growing environmental consciousness in this country.
Years of advocacy by non-government organisations such as Fishermen and Friends of the Sea which rang the alarm bell on the FSO Nabarima, are gaining traction, especially among the younger generation for whom the future of the planet is high on the agenda.
The report from the Government’s technical team which visited the vessel on Tuesday provides a basis for cautious optimism that the FSO Nabarima will not turn into a full-fledged environmental disaster. However, judging from statements by Energy Minister Franklin Khan at yesterday’s news conference, the risk is far from eliminated. One specific concern is the length of time—35 days—that it will take to offload and transfer the cargo of oil using a small barge. Noting the risk of something going wrong, Minister Khan cited Venezuela’s problem of resources. He did not say, however, whether given T&T’s own stake in the success of the operation, this country would be willing to assist in helping Venezuela to resolve this problem.
The sequence of communication with the government of Venezuela, as outlined by Dr Amery Browne, Minister for Foreign and Caricom Affairs, suggests that T&T needs to keep a close eye on the situation. While it is evident that the T&T Government was diligent in getting the Venezuelan authorities to the point of approving a visit by a technical team from this country, it remains a mystery why the Maduro government changed its initial position to allow the T&T team to examine the vessel on September 28.
Unlike Minister Khan, who gushed praises about the high courtesies extended to the T&T team on the FSO Nabarima and his admiration for how “honest” the Venezuelans were in admitting to the initial tilting of the vessel and its leak, we prefer to take a more cautious view until answers are forthcoming.
We are disappointed that the media were not invited on the tour of the ship. Having independent media with video cameras on board the FSO Nabarima would have given the public a ringside seat on a matter of concern to them.
While we would like to share Minister Browne’s confidence that the Government “cares about the environment”, it would take a lot more than this one act of responsiveness. Civil society groups are still up against the Government and institutional forces in trying to protect the environment against public policies that fall far short of balancing environmental interests with outdated ideas of development. Minister Khan is presiding over the destruction of the Northern Range and water courses by unscrupulous and illegal quarry operators; the Commissioner of State Lands seems blind to the epidemic of deforestation by squatters big and small; there is almost no enforcement of the legal commitment by companies to replant cleared areas—and the list goes on. There’s still a long way to go before the Government can earn a badge of honour for its care of the environment.