The Trinidad and Tobago government on Thursday expressed satisfaction with a report by a team of its own experts that had found that the Venezuelan oil storage vessel, the FSO Nabarima, was not tilting in the Gulf of Paria as had been reported earlier.
Energy and Energy Industries Minister, Frankling Khan, speaking at a virtual news conference here, said that the local team of experts had boarded the vessel, which is anchored in Venezuelan territorial waters on Wednesday and had submitted its report to the authorities.
“I am very pleased, so too the government of Trinidad and Tobago through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also that the report of the technical team has put a relatively positive perspective of what is transpiring out there.
“I know the nation has been very (anxious) and quite concerned and with just cause because an environmental disaster of the scale that was envisaged obviously would have hurt Trinidad and Tobago significantly”.
Khan said that the results of the team have indicated that “a genuine risk of that nature does not exist. However we will continue to be vigilant in our communication with Venezuelan authorities to make sure that the situation as we currently see it as of now and onwards, that they continue to monitor it in a very diplomatic way to make sure that nothing onto wards accrue between the offloading of the vessel.
‘This is a matter under the jurisdiction of a sovereign state. We are a friendly neighbour with concerns, and I think we have been treated with respect and I expect Trinidad and Tobago also treats the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela with due respect”.
CARICOM and Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Emery Browne had said earlier in advance of receiving the report Port of Spain has been in communication with the Guyana-based Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary-General, Irwin la Rocque and the Trinidad and Tobago-based Association of Caribbean States (ACS).
Barbados and Guyana have already said they were monitoring the situation.
Khan told reporters that the Trinidad and Tobago team had been met at the Cabinet level on their arrival on the FSO Nabarima and that they had been able to do a fly over before landing so as to ensure that the vessel was not tilting.
Khan said that the Venezuelans had been “upfront” with Port of Spain, reporting in September incidents that had occurred on the vessel, but that Caracas had also maintained that the situation had been properly rectified.
“All in all the team is very satisfied that the vessel has no tilt. The vessel was not taking in water and all the operating systems were functioning at a level that was acceptable,” Khan said, noting that in their report the experts had also concluded that the “FSO Nabarima, is upright and stable with no visible tilt and there is no imminent risk of it tilting, or sinking at this time.
“There is no water ingress on the vessel visible to the team. So the ingress of water that was reported in early September no longer exists…and tit was confirmed that…during the incident when the engine room was flooded there was no mixing of oil and binge water”.
Khan said that the oil did not leak adding “what this implies s that the double hulls on the vessel were intact and pose “minimum risk of any oil spill at this time.”
He said the experts also confirmed that major maintenance is ongoing, pumps and electoral motors are being repaired and or have been replaced.
But the Energy and energy Industries Minister said that the team also recommended that the Trinidad and Tobago government should request of Caracas “that the technical team…should be asked to revisit the vessel in about a month’s time to make sure that everything remains as is so that there will be a continuity of monitoring”.
Last weekend, the United States, which has imposed a trade and economic embargo against Venezuela as it seeks to remove President Nicholas Maduro from office in favour of the opposition leader, Juan Guaido, said that it remained “concerned by the potential risk to safety and environment” posed by the Nabarima.
“We strongly support immediate actions to bring the Nabarima up to international safety standards and avoid possible environmental harm, which could negatively impact not only the Venezuelan people but also those in nearby countries. PdVSA has a responsibility to take action to avoid an environmental disaster in Venezuelan waters.”
Khan said that the FSO Nabarima had been anchored in Venezuelan waters for the past10 years and that media reports earlier this week had indicated that the Venezuelans had started to offload the vessel.
“There are reports based on the international shipping intelligence that two vessels have lined up alongside the Nabarima offloading its crude. This has been verified by the team,” Khan said, adding “what is happening as we speak is that there is a barge, where crude is pumped from the Nabarima into the barge (which) takes it to a tanker …which is under US sanction, which means that this tanker cannot leave Venezuelan waters, which means obviously that they are moving the crude …into another location in Venezuela, very likely on shore.
“The only challenge we saw to that is that because these vessels have small capacity, the barge only has a capacity of 30,000 and the tanker has a capacity of 300,000, it will take an inordinately long time to empty the vessel.
“We have calculated that it will take over 35 days. While the process of emptying the vessel is safe…but the extended period time which this activity will take will in fact pose some sort of challenge that we need to monitor and in that context we intend to ask Venezuela if they could get larger vessels to offload the crude…but obviously that would depend on the resources,’ Khan told reporters.