Rescuers in Trinidad and Tobago are scrambling to clean up a massive oil spill after a mysterious ship ran aground near the Caribbean island, casting a pall over carnival tourism.
At least 15 km (about 10 miles) of coastline was affected in Tobago and authorities were on the verge of declaring a national emergency, Farley Augustine, chief secretary of the Tobago Legislative Assembly, said on Saturday.
Environmental officials said the spill damaged an Atlantic reef and beaches, boding ill for the island’s resorts and hotels, which are the lifeline of the local economy during carnival season.
Augustine said the government could upgrade the accident to a level 3 disaster, adding: “everything indicates that we are moving in that direction.”
The mysterious vessel, identified as the Gulfstream, capsized on Wednesday off the Cove Eco-Industrial Park in southern Tobago and currents swept the boat towards shore.
When sighted Wednesday, the vessel was sailing under an unidentified flag and made no emergency calls.
The island’s emergency management agency said there were no signs of life on board the ship, whose cargo was initially believed to be sand and wood.
The agency released photos of about 1,000 volunteers dressed in white protective suits working to remove oil from beaches.
Divers were preparing to plug a leak in the ship, Augustine added.
For the moment, according to a government source, “all the efforts of the coast guard are aimed at containing the oil spill”.
The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it would take “some time” before investigators could determine the ship’s origins, ownership and intended destination.
Augustine said the island was ready to accept help from other countries and had received offers of assistance.
Trinidad’s Energy Minister Stuart Young visited Tobago and said the main island was ready to offer “whatever assistance can be provided”.
The disaster comes on the eve of Carnival, and Dave Tancoo, an opposition MP, said tour operators were likely to suffer huge losses at a time when they usually record peak profits.
“This opportunity has been cruelly taken away from them,” he said.