The various local and regional entities closely monitoring developments with the FSO Nabarima in the Gulf of Paria should not let up their guard, even with recent assurances there is no imminent risk of the storage tanker tilting or sinking.

The three-member team from this country that inspected the vessel reported it is upright and stable with no water ingress or mixing of bilge water, indicating minimal risk of an oil spill.

However, the authorities here must remain vigilant to this and other potential threats to the delicate ecosystems in the Gulf of Paria and the Caribbean Sea.

Alarms are continually being raised about the steady collapse of Venezuela’s once-powerful energy industry and the Nabarima incident lends credence to reports in recent years about ruptured pipelines, rusting tankers and dilapidated refineries at facilities operated by Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA)

Part of the fallout from the economic and political crisis in Venezuela has been the deteriorating state of PDVSA, a situation further exacerbated by US sanctions against that country.

So while there has been a lot of concern about trafficking and other illegal activities which have brought increased contraband and undocumented migrants to T&T’s shores, the potential for large-scale ecological disasters should not be overlooked.

Oil spills have been occurring from various PDVSA facilities with increasing frequency, although this country has not been directly affected—at least not yet.

The most recent incidents should be cause for concern.

Last month, crude blanketed parts of the coastline of Falcón state from a cracked underwater pipeline during attempts to restart fuel production at PDVSA’s Cardón refinery. A short distance away, fishermen reported an oil slick from a second broken pipeline.

These incidents are indicators of various ticking ecological time bombs in the Gulf of Paria. No wonder the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the governments of Guyana and Barbados are keeping a close watch on the Nabarima matter

Latest reports suggest that a ship-to-ship (STS) transfer of the oil cargo from the Nabarima is being attempted but even that operation carries its own risks.

T&T has had its own experience of the harm that can be caused by deteriorating oil infrastructure. In mid to late December 2013, a 16-inch sea line operated by Petrotrin ruptured near the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery, triggering a series of spills on our southwestern peninsula. About 7,000 barrels of oil spilt into the Gulf of Paria, endangering the many mammals, reptiles and amphibians that inhabit those waters, along with the surrounding mangrove forests, lagoons and beaches.

Yet even that amount of oil was minuscule compared to the millions of barrels of crude onboard the Nabarima, so the potential damage would be considerably more to T&T’s environment, as well as coastal communities and industries.

The paucity of information from Venezuela is an additional reason from concern, particularly because this is a nation with which we are reported to have good diplomatic relations.

The bottom line is that we can’t afford to take our eyes off the situation in the Gulf.