A letter will be dispatched to the Prime Minister shortly detailing concerns about the pumping of fuel at Turn Basin, Port Kaituma and asking for this practice to be stopped, according to Region One Vice Chairman Fermin Singh who says that the spillage of oil into the river is an ongoing issue.
Singh made these comments in the wake of the recent explosion of a fuel trawler which destroyed at least four vessels and five buildings. There have been numerous concerns also from residents about the pollution of the Port Kaituma River with oil. For those living along the river bank, this issue is of major concern as the river water is used for washing and other tasks.
Speaking to Stabroek News yesterday Singh said that three days before the explosion the issue was being discussed by regional officials and concerned residents.
He said it was preferable that the pumping of fuel occur at Morawhanna, where a GuyOil Service Station is located. Morawhanna is located around 75 miles from Port Kaituma and Singh’s suggestion will raise questions as to how the fuel will be transported as not only will the distance be an issue but the fact is that the only mode of transport between the two communities is the river.
Singh explained that Turn Basin is a more convenient location, as “it is closer to the market” and as such the fuel gets sold quickly. Fuel boats arrive with hundreds of barrels of fuel in Port Kaituma at least three time per week to supply the many dredge owners who operate in Port Kaituma’ s backdam and other areas which are accessed from that community.
Addressing the issue of the oil pollution in the river, Singh said there is always spillage. Richard Allen, a resident had said last Saturday that in March 2013, some 529 people were infected with gastroenteritis, many of whom lived in the Turn Basin area and he felt that the infection could have been a result of the pollution of the river water. Garbage is dumped in the river mainly by persons working on the oil boats, and the water is also contaminated by oil spills.
He said too that at present fuel boats use gas pumps to pump fuel and he recommended the use of electrical/vacuum pumps as an alternative. Electrical and vacuum pumps are the safest for the purposes of pumping fuel, he explained, and would reduce pollution as well as the likelihood of fires.
Singh told this newspaper that he was not surprised that the tragedy occurred as there is usually a film of oil on the water top and that is what probably helped to spread the fire.
When asked if the region has been doing anything to ensure that the boat owners operate in the correct manner, he said that it is the Maritime Department that is supposed to be checking and inspecting boats. He said this department is responsible for safety among other things. He stressed that all fuel boats should meet certain requirements including having a fire extinguisher on board.
He expressed hope that the issue of the manner in which fuel is being pumped would be resolved quickly.
He said while he is aware that pumping is continuing in the area, they cannot tell persons to cease operations without prior notice. They would have to write a letter to the Prime Minister’s office and then the public will be notified about what is being done and why it is being done, he stated.
Following the explosion, Singh said that he and an environmental officer visited the scene and met fire officials there already conducting investigations.
Singh thanked residents for their efforts in containing the blaze. He said Guyana Fire Service (GFS) volunteers were given a “fire hose and a little pump” but it did not help much. He said that it was these volunteers along with other residents who formed a bucket brigade to help bring the flames under control. They did “fairly good work” he said.
When Stabroek News spoke to residents in the area around 2 pm yesterday they said persons were still pumping fuel.
Samuel Benjamin who lost a building and half of another said that one of the boats pumping fuel belonged to the owner the fishing trawler that exploded last Friday.
That person, who lives in Georgetown is known only by the call name “Proxy”. Persons in the Port Kaituma area said that they attempted to make telephone contact with him but their calls went unanswered. This newspaper made several attempts as well but the number rang out.
Based on the information coming from the area, the man has a total of seven trawlers which transport fuel from Venezuela.
Benjamin said he was surprised that fuel was being pumped. He is one of several persons who are looking for compensation and he said that to date, the businessman has not indicated whether he will do so. “Is like he don’t care and the authorities ain’t care either because they allowing it [the pumping]’” he stressed.
Meanwhile this newspaper was told that the 17-year-old boy who was said to have caused the explosion had been taken back to his home village of Hosororo by his relatives despite the fact that he was badly burnt and in severe pain.
Based on what Stabroek News has learnt the teen was transported from Port Kaituma to Hosororo on Saturday. He sustained terrible burns to his back, hands and feet. His relatives made the decision to move him as it would be easier to access him if he is closer to them. Travelling from Hosororo to Port Kaituma is not only expensive but the distance is long.
One resident said it would have been best for the teen to be transported to Georgetown where he could get advanced medical care.
Singh told Stabroek News that he had heard that the young man was pumping fuel from the boat to the shore when the pump started to spark. He said the “hose burst” resulting in a fire being ignited and the teen then jumped overboard leaving the pump unattended.