Sinking Venezuelan Oil Tanker Threatens Caribbean

Sara Fakik
Staff Writer

A Venezuelan oil tanker carrying over one million barrels of oil, Nabarima, is in danger of sinking in the waters between Venezuela, Trinidad, and Tobago. If the damaged ship sinks, the resulting oil spill will be worse than the 1989 Exxon oil spill and the 2010 BP oil spill. Forbes reports that crew members noticed water leaks and tilting in July, and the situation has only worsened.

According to Al Jazeera, Franklin Khan, Trinidad’s minister of energy and energy industries, sent a team to inspect the ship and has assured there is no risk of an oil spill. He explains that there is intensive, ongoing maintenance and that Trinidadian officials wish to conduct another inspection in a month. The governments of Venezuela and Trinidad did not provide much detail on their maintenance, but they say it is difficult due to the need for a separate oil tanker to take oil from the Nabarima and make multiple trips due to the amount of oil it is carrying.

Gary Aboud, corporate secretary of a Trinidad and Tobago-based environmental group, worries that the ship does not have much time before creating a disaster in the Caribbean. He was able to get close enough to the ship to prove that it is tilting and in danger of encountering bad weather conditions during the region’s annual hurricane season. After Aboud’s video went viral on social media, government officials in Venezuela were criticized for their lack of concern over the situation.

The oil tanker has gotten caught up in sanctions imposed by the United States on Venezuela, causing the ship to be in open water since January. Many are hesitant to get involved because the U.S. needs to allow other tankers to take in the oil from the Nabarima. If the oil spills, there is a possibility of it going into the Atlantic Ocean, according to Bloomberg. Venezuela had three oil spills in the Caribbean in the past three months – a spill from the Nabarima would be not only the fourth, but one of the worst in history.

Forbes explains that the United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO), the global body charged with regulating shipping, has been criticized for creating rules that are too vague and give no authority with which to intervene. State sovereignty is an issue when it comes to environmental and humanitarian concerns, as it prevents involvement by foreign parties in crises.

The Washington Post reports that there is a plan between Venezuela and Trinidad if the oil spill does occur, but this would likely be too late to prevent extensive damage. Environmental activists and people in Trinidad and Tobago are urging for immediate involvement due to a growing climate crisis, as well as Trinidad’s dependency on fishing. The chemicals in the oil would hurt marine ecosystems, affecting different animals such as fish and coral reefs. This would impact Trinidad and Tobago’s economy due to its reliance on fishing.

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