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Government has now initiated official communication to get independent verification from Venezuelan authorities of the status of the damaged oil tanker “Nabarima”—after reports that the vessel has tilted and sunk 14.5 metres.

Equipment suppliers in T&T have been approached to assist in addressing the issue concerning the “Nabarima”.

T&T Energy Minister Franklin Khan yesterday confirmed Government is seeking the independent verification. He noted that initial reports from Venezuelan authorities were that the vessel was upright and in stable condition.

Khan also added, “The Energy Ministry through the Venezuelan Embassy has offered any assistance, technical or logistical to the Government of Venezuela that it may require. Also, the Minister of Energy is in contact with his Venezuelan counterpart for further updates as they become available.”

An Argus media report on Wednesday stated that the “Nabarima”, a floating oil storage and offloading vessel (FSO) is moored in the Paria Gulf, “Close to T&T where equipment suppliers have been approached to assist in addressing the issue.”

International maritime reports —with photos—are that the “Nabarima” has been leaning to the right side in recent weeks after it sustained water infiltration.

The fact that its cargo is 1.43 million barrels of oil has sparked fears that it’s sinking and the oil cargo will contaminate the Gulf, damaging T&T’s marine life.

The vessel is operated by Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.

The Argus report stated that PDVSA said the stored crude oil would be transferred to another vessel in order to stabilise the vessel—but didn’t disclose concrete plans.

Argus’ report stated that the Italian Eni firm—a minority partner of PDVSA—assured the vessel has been stabilised, a recent water leak was “solved” and a transfer of the oil cargo is planned. ENI said PDVSA said there is currently no risk of oil spill” and that company was collaborating with its PetroSucre associate to define and implement a program for unloading the oil cargo.

ENI spoke about the implementation of the program using a dynamic positioning tanker and technical services.

Apart from Argus’ report, Khan was contacted by Guardian Media on concerns by the Fishermen and Friends of the Sea group which has appealed for Government to assist Venezuela on the matter and expressed concern that Khan hadn’t fully clarified the issue.

FFOS added, “If the vessel is ‘upright and stable,’ as was said why then is the Venezuelan Government hastily attempting to remove the barrels of oil?”

In a statement to Guardian Media yesterday afternoon Khan said the Ministry continues “to closely monitor the developing situation” regarding vessel.

He reiterated that it stores crude oil from the Joint Venture of PDVSA (74 per cent) and ENI ( 26 per cent).

“This transshipment has stopped since the US sanctions. The FSO is now filled to capacity (1.3 million barrels of oil). Initial reports from Venezuelan authorities indicated the vessel was upright and in a stable condition. There was no risk of an oil spill. Additionally, it is a double hull vessel. However, recent reports from the national press have indicated the vessel has tilted 5 degrees to the right and that it has sunk 14.5 metres at the water line. We are currently attempting to get independent verification of this from the Venezuelan authorities.”

Khan also noted Augus’ report quoting ENI. He said that report indicated the vessel is stable and the recent water leak has been solved. The report further stated plans are afoot to transfer the crude oil to another vessel to further stabilise the vessel and there’s no risk of an oil spill.

Khan added, “The nation needs to be reminded that Venezuela is a sovereign state and T&T cannot unilaterally enter Venezuelan territory to conduct any reconnaissance or other works without being invited to so do. There exists a bilateral agreement between Venezuela and Trinidad for an oil spill contingency plan in the event a genuine risk exists or an active spill occurs. This is the agreement that will govern the action of the Government.”

Yesterday UNC MP Anita Haynes (shadow Energy Minister) said, “If the Nabarima sinks it will trigger an ecological disaster of which T&T has never seen. Our marine coastline from Chaguaramas to Icacos could be destroyed and along with it the livelihoods of thousands. This dangerous situation demands immediate attention but the silence of the Rowley regime is deafening.”

“So far, no member of the Rowley regime has publicly addressed this grave threat to our nation, nor has any emergency or contingency plans been put in place in the event of a major oil spill. Government has a duty under the bilateral treaty on oil spills to get accurate information on this situation. Secondly, it should have started to consider how it would plan for the worst case which is a spill headed towards our west coast.”