Government and all its relevant agencies would do well to closely monitor developments with the floating storage tanker that has been listing for the past few days and could cause a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Paria.

There needs to be more than passing concern about the fate of the Nabarima, a Floating Stored Oil (FSO) tanker located off the Venezuelan coast of Guiria, because it is holding close to 1.3 million barrels of crude oil.

Should the worst happen, Trinidad and Tobago will be facing one of the biggest marine disasters in its history, which will impact local fisheries and other activities all along that coast. According to a report in the New York Times on Tuesday, a potential spill could damage fragile mangroves, fisheries and bird sanctuaries.

Energy Minister Franklin Khan revisited the issue again yesterday, after noting information initially received from his Venezuelan counterparts on the situation may not have been a full picture of the current situation. Minister Khan also stood ready to offer any assistance to rectify the situation if Venezuela seeks it.

Questions are indeed being raised about the capacity of state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela, SA (PDVSA), which has been mired in corruption and mismanagement for years, to properly handle the situation.

This potential crisis is developing in an area where production operations have ceased. The Nabarima is in Venezuela’s Corocoro field, which has been abandoned for two years.

The situation with the vessel only became known because of alarms raised by Eudis Girot, head of the Unitary Federation Petroleum Workers of Venezuela (Futpve), who claims the Nabarima is in a very bad state as its equipment has completely deteriorated.

Preventing an environmental disaster involves transferring crude from the listing tanker to another vessel. To further complicate matters, current US sanctions against Venezuela means the necessary expertise and equipment might not be available to PDVSA for the delicate operation.

The environmental and economic implications for T&T if the worst happens are too dire to contemplate in these uncertain pandemic times

This country and then state-owned oil company Petrotrin took some blows seven years ago when 11 oil spills ravaged Trinidad’s southwestern peninsula. Another major oil spill near the country’s most populous and active coast has implications for the livelihoods of many citizens.

At its healthiest, the Gulf’s nutrient-rich waters support abundant and diverse fisheries. The mangroves and wetlands there nurture an array of marine life.

However, there is always a balancing act that must be maintained between that natural diversity and the industrial activity concentrated along that coastline, including major oil facilities, shipping and drydocking operations.

To further underscore the importance of the Gulf of Paria to this country, consider the fact that more than 2,500 fisherfolk operate in communities there and it is in the vicinity of that coast that more than 90 per cent of Trinidad’s population resides.

With so much to lose, this looming environmental threat must be taken very seriously.