MP Ravi Ratiram Speaks on the Tobago Oil Spill

MP Ravi Ratiram Speaks on the Tobago Oil Spill

Thank you most kindly, our Chief Whip, Shadow Minister of Energy and Energy Affairs, MP for Point a Pierre and Deputy Political Leader, Dr. David Lee, for that very informative and mind-opening presentation, exposing this incompetent, uncaring PNM administration and the issues surrounding it. A pleasant good morning to the Honorable Leader of the Opposition, the Honorable Kamla Persad Bissessar and my parliamentary colleagues. Good morning to members of our communication team who are here with us, members of the media who are joining us locally, regionally and internationally, my brothers and sisters here in Trinidad and Tobago and those who are joining us internationally via the various social media platforms. Pleasant good morning to one and all. 

This morning, I’m going to use my time to discuss with you the oil spill in the southwestern coast of Tobago and the impact that this oil spill is having on the various sectors, the various industries, and the various stakeholders. 

Brothers and sisters, today being 12 days after a vessel had run aground and overturn off the coast of Cove with hydrocarbon spilling into the ocean and this government doing absolutely nothing to stop that spill is a testimony of their incompetence, a clear dereliction of duty and an indication that they have totally expired their usefulness if ever they had any. 

Also Read: Tides move Oil Spill Away from Tobago to the Caribbean, Neighbors on Alert

To attempt to fool the population once more of this ghost ship, this Gulfstream, and trying to foist upon the population that they don’t know and hiding from the population. It really leaves us to wonder, how do they think about the citizens of this country? Do they think the citizens are foolish that are going to believe this stupid rhetoric that they are attempting to peddle? 

When they know for a fact that there was a tugboat associated with this Gulfstream by the name of the Solo Creed, and the radar system, the national surveillance system, the radar system, clearly picked up information on these vessels. They want to push an agenda for the population to swallow that they have no idea who the ship belongs to, where the ship comes from, etc. Well, I want to ask the government, who are they really trying to protect? What it is that this government have to hide? This government, according to the Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, this government has to be more transparent and more accountable to the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. 

The Chief Secretary made a statement to the media on Thursday, the 8th of February. And this was reported in the Newsday newspaper just one day after the vessel was found. And the headline of that article stated, “Tobago may need international help after oil spill.” I want to go into the article. The THA Secretary, Farley Augustine, says, there is a strong possibility Tobago may need international assistance to address the environmental fallout from an oil spill caused by a boat found overturned on Wednesday in the sea about 200 meters off the coast of the Cove Eco-Industrial Park. That article continues where Chief Secretary addressing a news conference on Thursday at Scarborough lay by, Augustine acknowledged that fishermen, beachgoers and islands tourism sector will be severely affected by the oil spill. He told reporters the situation was grim, and he’s quoted here, we have at this time the threat level elevated at Tier 2, but we anticipate that in the coming hours it may very well be elevated to Tier 3, Augustine said. 

In the Parliament on Friday, the Honorable Prime Minister indicated that they have activated the 2013 National Oil Spill Contingency Plan, which of course was developed by the People’s Partnership under the leadership of the Honorable Kamla Persad Bissessar by our former Minister of Energy, the Honorable Kevin Ramnarine. And I want to take a moment to make reference to something that was put out in the public space by the Honorable Kevin Ramnarine. This states from Kevin, Eleven years ago, I triggered the national oil spill response to Tier 3, and within 24 hours, a cargo plane from OSRL landed with equipment to combat the spill. With oil spills, especially in the open seas, you have to respond fast. This is arguably a much larger spill than 2013’s spill. 

The Gulfstream is still leaking. and we still don’t know the quantity of liquid hydrocarbon inside it. It is going a week now that it is leaking. And I thank Honourable Kevin Ramnarine for his contribution and his contribution to the energy sector during that period. The Prime Minister making reference to this national oil spill contingency plan where the plan clearly outlines the different categorization of oil spill levels of the different tiers and the corresponding responses that are required. 

So folks, I want to share with you from the national oil spill contingency plan where a Tier 2 and Tier 3 are defined. Tier 2 spill a small or medium-sized spill where significant impacts are possible an area national support for adequate spill response is required. 

Let me repeat that for you, Tier 2 spills are small or medium sized spills where significant impacts are possible and area or national support for adequate spill response is required. Tier 3 on the other hand, Tier 3 spills are normally large spills requiring substantial resources and support from regional or international oil spill cooperatives to mitigate effects perceived to be wide-reaching, that is, of national or international significance. And this is extracted from the NOSCP. On Friday last, Friday the 16th, it was reported in The Guardian, Tobago spills enter Grenada’s marine space. And this is how far this oil spill has actually reached, brothers and sisters. Quoting from Guardian newspaper, Grenada has contacted the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency and other partners as possible oil from the Tobago oil spill has entered their marine area of responsibility. 

Brothers and sisters it is clear that this Government failed, has failed to act in a timely and a responsible manner. They have failed to recognize this is clearly a tier 3 disaster and they have failed to invite the international agencies to provide the necessary assistance and to treat this matter as a matter of urgency. While it is, we look at support from the international agencies, brothers and sisters, I must take the time this morning on behalf of the opposition to congratulate all local skill set and all the boots that are on the ground in Tobago assisting with the containment and the cleanup exercise and the work that is being carried out on the ground at this point in time. However, brothers and sisters, it is important for us to understand the neglect that has been carried out by this government with their failure to attack. 

Brothers and sisters, you all will definitely recall the Paria incident where the government failed to act. They failed to act in a timely and responsible manner, brothers and sisters. And you all know what was the outcome of that Paria incident, that sad tragedy that up to now the families continue to be affected by. That incident, brothers and sisters, Today, there are four widows in this country as a result of this government negligence that we must never forget. Today, we are calling on the government to activate the Tier 3 response and invite the necessary international agencies to assist in having this spill contained and to bring to an end the continuing destruction of the Tobago’s ecological environment and now that of the neighboring countries who may also be a threat. 

Another part of the national oil spill contingency plan that I want to touch on this morning, which is a very important section of the plan, is the preparedness section. Under the preparedness section, there is the assumption in the event of a major oil spill in the terrestrial and marine environment, the following assumptions are made. And the first assumption that is put forward is that the first priority will be the safety and preservation of life of person and personnel. I want to repeat that the first priority will be the safety and preservation of life of persons and personnel. Brothers and sisters, we are day 12 now. They do not know what is leaking from that vessel. They do not know the toxicity of the chemical that is being spilled into the sea and reaching our shorelines that is spreading throughout the ocean and that is migrating all the way to the waters of Grenada and possibly Venezuela. 

Do they know if the spilled chemicals are carcinogenic? Do they know that? What testing have been completed thus far? And what are the results of those tests? Why is this not being made public? Why the results of these tests we are at day 12 not being made public if they have gotten any results thus far? The government has a responsibility to ensure that the health and safety of everyone involved in the containment and cleanup activities are preserved. Every single one who is participating in this cleanup exercise, the government has a responsibility to ensure that their health and safety is preserved, brothers and sisters. They also have a responsibility to preserve the health and safety of citizens in the neighboring villages. 

It was reported by the Newsday just a few days ago in an article entitled, Fishermen and Friends, “Tobago Oil Spill Could Get Worse.” The article stated that villagers had to leave their homes in the Lambo area because of the stench emanating from the spilled chemicals because of that center that these villagers were exposed to they had to leave their homes one resident was quoted as saying on Wednesday when the incident had just happened you couldn’t even stay in the area this the stench was horrible. Another resident from the same area who gave his name only as Hiram, said he was aware of the incident on Wednesday when he came home from work and asked about the stench. Brothers and sisters, we need to ask the question and we need answers. Is continuous air quality monitoring being conducted? Are they conducting continuous air quality monitoring? Are these residents 

been exposed to volatile organic compounds or any other harmful pollutant exceeding the permissible levels and compromised air quality? What are they using to clean up the spill at this point in time? They need to come and tell the population. 

The National Oil Spill Contingency Plan clearly has an organizational charter to guide the process and in that organizational chart it speaks of an information officer who has that responsibility of putting out this information into the public space where all stakeholders are concerned. What are they using to clean up? Are they using dispersants? What chemicals are being used? If so, if any chemicals, are these chemicals all approved by the Ministry of Energy and Energy Affairs? Brothers and sisters, these are very pertinent questions, especially taken into consideration. 

We also have a team of volunteers on the ground whose lives and health are at risk. With respect to the volunteers, are these volunteers properly trained as per Appendix Q of our National Oil Spill Contingency Plan? What level of training has these volunteers undergo? Because there is a simple volunteer form that one can follow going on the TEMA website. Brothers and sisters, we also need to call on this government and to make their risk assessment public. Was a complete risk assessment done? Has the risk been identified? and are all measures put in place to mitigate against these risks. This risk assessment must be made public to be scrutinized by all stakeholders and all persons involved. At this point in time, I want to turn to the fisheries section under the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries, which I have been given the responsibility as the shadow minister on the opposition benches. 

And I want to ask the question, is the waters of Tobago safe to fish? What testing was done to declare that the waters of Tobago is actually safe to fish? We need to hear this information from the government. And if testing was done, what were the results of these tests? Testing not only of where the spill occur and where the drift occur, but testing of surrounding waters need to be carried out as well to determine if it has been contaminated in any form beyond the obvious visible hydrocarbon. You see brothers and sisters, contamination in an oil spill is not only what can be visibly seen through staining, but crude oil is made up of hydrocarbon and other compounds, so it can have chemicals in the waters that are not visible.

So it has to be tested brothers and sisters. The testing has to take place in addition to that the seafood that has been sold in Tobago Are these seafood being tested? Where is food and drug? Are they part of the system that is conducting the tests and putting out notices out there that the seafood in Tobago are safe to consume. At this point in time, we are at a very important venture. We are at a very important period in the Christian calendar. We are observing the Lenten season. At this point in time, during that Lenten season, people utilize seafood for their source of protein. They avoid meat and they utilize seafood during the Lenten season. We saw newspaper clippings where the fisher folk indicated that the price of a fish would most likely be increasing during this period because there is definitely going to be a shortage in supply of the seafood. 

The fisher folks have been grounded. 

Vessels from Scarborough to Black Rock have been grounded by the Cove, Rockley Bay, Lambo. all these fisher folks across that region, across that area in Tobago cannot apply their trade, cannot go out and earn a living, earn an income to put food for their families on their table. What is this government doing at this point in time? To show compassion for these families. What this government is doing at this point in time to take care There is absolutely no communication whatsoever coming from the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries. And I call upon Haji Senator the Honorable Kazim Hosein to break your silence and come forward and speak out and say what it is that you are going to do to help and to assist these fisher folks.

This government clearly lacks empathy. We saw that we needed an inquiry, a commission of inquiry into that pariah tragedy. for there to hear for themselves that there is a humanitarian side to the natural disaster. There is a humanitarian side that there should be some kind of compassionate grant in place. Brothers and sisters, this morning we in the opposition are calling upon the government while it is that the contingencies plan speaks of compensation, which will happen in a long time from now, hopefully, if the government uphold what is expected of them, how these families are going to make it through this tough, turbulent time? How these fisher folks? So we in the opposition, we are calling upon this government, we are calling upon the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries to institute a compassionate grant for the fisher folks of Tobago to assist these fisher folks and to assist the families of these fisher folks. 

Clearly, brothers and sisters, this government have not learned from the Paria incident. All we have seen coming out of it from the government side is the prime minister going to Tobago for photo ops, posing for pictures in Tobago, and absolutely nothing different. The chief secretary and the THA continues to pilot, continues to spearhead, continues to do what it is they are doing there, and central government fail to provide that national security information on these vessels, who are the owners of these vessels, where really these vessels came from and were going, etc. This Prime Minister has shown total lack of consideration, care and compassion to the people of Tobago, brothers and sisters. And he must be called out on it. It must not be left untold. 

The story must be told, brothers and sisters. by all the citizens of Trinidad and of Tobago. It is imperative that the government take swift and comprehensive action to contain the spill, mitigate its impact, and provide support to those whose lives and businesses have been upended. Brothers and sisters, it is time for the government to prioritize the preservation of our environment and the well-being of our fishing community. Hence, I call upon the government once more to take immediate and decisive steps to address this crisis and ensure that those affected receive the support that they desperately need, brothers and sisters. The failure of this government to effectively respond to the oil spill represents not only an environmental catastrophe but also a profound failure of leadership in this government. 

All citizens at this point in time, my brothers and sisters must stand in solidarity with the people of Tobago and our fishing communities and demand accountability from those entrusted with safeguarding our natural resources and the well-being of our people. With that said, brothers and sisters, I thank you all very much for this opportunity to present. I also want to share with you That in addition to this oil spill issue, the number one issue affecting the citizens of this country is the issue of crime. 

Our leader, the Honourable Kamla Persad Bissessar, the leader of the opposition, continues to fight for the citizens of this country to ensure that your safety and your security is upheld and at least that the government move towards providing safety and security for our citizens, and improve the current system. 

And as of course, our leader has begun the opposition anti-crime consultation across the country, starting in La Joya, going to San Fernando. And on this Monday, the 19th of February from 6 p.m., all are invited to join the leader of the opposition in her anti-crime consultation being held at the Chaguanas Borough Corporation Hall from 6:00 p.m. We will be starting promptly and it will be streaming on all our social media platform with those few words i once more thank you i thank my colleague MP David Lee and now I ask if you all have any questions that we are we will try our best to respond and to answer.

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