‘We Have No Idea’: Trinidad and Tobago Declares Emergency ‘Ghost Ship’ Oil Spill

View of the oil spill at Rockly Bay in Tobago island, Trinidad and Tobago, on February 10,
Clement Williams / AFP via Getty

Trinidad and Tobago declared a state of national emergency this weekend after a mysterious “ghost ship” caused a large offshore oil spill that affected the island nation’s shores.

Officials believe the vessel capsized on Wednesday, but have, at press time, few answers about the ship itself. Trinidadian authorities do not know who owns the ship and discovered it abandoned without a crew.

It made no emergency calls to nearby authorities. Its origin and destination remain unknown at press time.

The spill caused by the “ghost ship,” so far only identified as Gulfstream, has affected about ten miles of Tobago’s southwest coastline. Local cleanup crews are attempting to contain the leak and clean the affected shorelines.

According to the chief secretary of Tobago’s House of Assembly Farley Augustine, divers have so far been unable to contain the oil leak and are trying to determine how to remove the remaining oil.

The Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago Keith Rowley addressed his nation on Monday, reiterating that local authorities are yet to determine how much oil was spilled and how much remains in the vessel. They also do not know what caused the vessel to capsize.

“An unknown vessel has apparently drifted upside down into Tobago. That vessel, we don’t know who it belongs to,” Rowley said. “We have no idea where it came from and we also don’t know all that it contains.”

“What we do know is that it appears to be broken and is leaking some kind of hydrocarbon that is fouling the water and the coastline,” he continued. “That vessel could have come to us from any kind of operation, especially if the operation is illicit.”

Authorities also do not know what kind of vessel the “ghost ship” exactly is.

Workers leave after their cleaning work could not be done due to the high tide after an oil spill at Rockly Bay in Tobago island, Trinidad and Tobago, on February 10, 2024. (CLEMENT WILLIAMS/AFP via Getty)

“Only the keel of the vessel is visible and its identifying characteristics are in the water which we can’t penetrate at the moment,” Rowley stated. “But we are doing all that is possible to answer these questions.”

Rowley explained that several countries with experience in oil spills have offered their assistance but did not name the supportive parties.

“I can tell you as a country, Trinidad and Tobago has been offered significant help from friendly nations who are involved in this,” Rowley asserted.

He added:

Cleaning and restoration can only seriously begin after we have brought the situation under control. Right now, the situation is not under control but it appears to be under sufficient control that we can acknowledge if it doesn’t worsen, it should get better.

I am anticipating an improved condition but because the vessel is precipitously located it can change its position based on the tide.

Local authorities are yet to determine the type of chemical, which appears to be a form of oil, that is leaking from the mysterious vessel and are awaiting results of samples taken to determine its exact nature.

“These are answers we don’t have at this point in time,” Rowley said. “But as the days pass and the additional work is done, we should be able to answer those questions as we go forward.”

Rowley warned that cleaning and restoration works can only seriously begin after the situation is brought under control.

“Right now, the situation is not under control,” he stressed. “But it appears to be under sufficient control that we think we can manage.”

Tobago’s Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) published a video on Monday showcasing the late night work of the cleanup crew around Rockley Bay, located in the town of Scarborough.

🌙Late into the night on Sunday February 11th 2024, Heritage Petroleum teams persist in their tireless cleanup efforts along Rockly Bay, Scarborough. Despite the darkness, their unwavering commitment shines as they work diligently to restore environmental balance and mitigate the recent incident's aftermath. #CommunityCommitment #oilspillresponse #operationgulfstream #resilience #CleanupEfforts#EnvironmentalCare #RocklybayRestoration #teamwork

Posted by TEMA (Tobago Emergency Management Agency) on Sunday, February 11, 2024

Trinidad and Tobago’s Institute of Marine Affairs began initial assessments this weekend of the mangroves and beaches located near the affected areas in Tobago, asserting that the Petit Trou lagoon, which was affected by the spill, is now considered in an “extremely vulnerable” position.

Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.


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