Caribbean eyes listing Venezuelan oil vessel with concern

55 million gallons of crude oil stored on barge

This image of the listing Nabarima oil-storage vessel off the coast of Venezuela was reportedly taken on 16 October by Trinidad activist group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea.

The Caribbean is watching an offshore floating oil-storage barge, called Nabarima, which is taking on water off the coast of Venezuela.

The Venezuelan state-owned ship, which is permanently docked and apparently abandoned in the Gulf of Paria, has been left without maintenance since January 2019 after Venezuela closed its Corocoro oil field following a series of sanctions by the US government.

Nabarima is currently storing 1.3 million barrels – equal to 55 million gallons – of crude oil, and fears of a potential oil spill continue to grow with each passing day.

In response to a request from the Cayman Compass for comment on the situation, the Cayman Islands Department of Environment said it “would characterise the risk of crude oil spilled from the Nabarima barge … [travelling] 1,500 miles to Cayman as a possibility, but highly unlikely”.

The Nabarima began taking on water in July.

The Trinidad and Tobago activist group, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea, released images of the vessel heavily listing at sea.

The images, which have since been picked up by regional and international news agencies, have sparked fears of an oil spill that could rival the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Authorities in Trinidad and Tobago told the Miami Herald newspaper that they plan to inspect the Nabarima this week.

Last week, the US embassy in Trinidad and Tobago issued a statement on the situation, saying, “The United States remains concerned by the potential risk to safety and environment posed by the Venezuelan-flagged vessel, Nabarima, in the Gulf of Paria. 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 (Petroleos de Venezuela) has a responsibility to take action to avoid an environmental disaster in Venezuelan waters.”

News agency Reuters reported that Petroleos de Venezuela, which owns the Nabarima, is planning to offload the crude oil by a ship-to-ship transfer.

“There is an immediate risk of oil pollution to the coasts of Trinidad and Colombia, as well as Venezuela, so one would expect those potentially impacted countries will be assisting to mitigate the risk,” said the Cayman DoE spokesperson. “It is far easier and less costly to prevent a spill than to clean one.”

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