Oil spill ruins Christmas for T&T fishermen

(Trinidad Guardian) Instead of smelling freshly baked bread and ham coming out of their ovens, members of the South Oropouche fishing community spent Christmas covering their noses from the stench of oil washing ashore. Just as the effects of December 2013’s oil spill were beginning to subside, Otaheite residents awoke to their shoreline being littered with oil stains.  Fishermen went into the water to check their boats, and came out with thick oil covering their bodies.

Fisherman Vishnu Cyril shows his oil-stained hands at Otaheite Fishing Depot, Oropouche, on Thursday. (Trinidad Guardian photo)
Fisherman Vishnu Cyril shows his oil-stained hands at Otaheite Fishing Depot, Oropouche, on Thursday. (Trinidad Guardian photo)

Otaheite Fishing Association vice-president Raffick Khan said they found oil washing ashore around 6 am, traveling from a north-eastern direction. As Khan spoke to the Guardian at the Otaheite Fishing Depot, fishermen busily washed oil off the slipway. With the stigma of the last oil spill still casting a shadow over their sales, Khan predicted that sales would now get even worse. “Last year around this time, we were having problems with oil. This year it has come back again to cause the same problem and we the fisherfolk suffer the consequences. Although Petrotrin had compensated us for a loss of earnings when we couldn’t fish in the first part of the year, for the rest the year we still lost out real bad. “Even when we went to catch fish at other beaches, when we come here to sell it, people don’t want to buy. Now it will be worse because people have a fear in their heart that fish is bad,” Khan said.

He also called on Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Petrotrin to investigate why oil was still washing up on their shores. He said he suspected that it might be from the 15 barrels of oil that leaked from Petrotrin into the Guaracara River on Sunday. Last December, when oil leaked into the sea from the Pointe-a-Pierre jetty, the oil travelled south-west through the Gulf of Paria and washed ashore in South Oropouche and La Brea. Around 3.40 pm yesterday La Brea resident Ricardo St Louis reported that oil was seen in the water off Coffee Beach, one of the areas still reeling from the 2013 disaster. He called on authorities to provide compensation, as the fishing community will not be able to work until it is safe to do so.

Christmas ruined

Khan said when his family awoke yesterday morning to the smell of “gas.” “We wanted to know if someone came to burn down out house,” he said. Most of the fishermen and vendors live along the shoreline and the pungent smell ruined their Christmas. Boat owner and fish vendor, Ramcharam Partap said he woke up early, hoping to prepare a Christmas meal, but was afraid to light his stove.

“I live on the beach and I got up early this morning to go to church. As I opened my window I got the smell of oil. I didn’t even know if to light my stove, so I had to eat bread and cheese this morning,” he said. Franklin Nemah said he too could not bake his ham because of the smell. “My plan was to get up and bake a ham this morning. I can’t even bake my ham. It’s only oil I’m smelling. And this is Christmas you know,” Nemah said.

 Petrotrin Responds

The company released a statement yesterday which said: Petrotrin received reports that oil had been observed at Otaheite Bay, along the South-western coast of Trinidad. Mindful of our corporate social responsibility as a major operator in the local energy industry, a team was dispatched to investigate these reports and test samples of the oily water. Petrotrin’s police has made reports to the Oropouche Police Station and are in the process of notifying the EMA police and other agencies about a nearby independent source of oily material that could have entered the sea. Investigations are continuing.



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