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Oil Company Cries ‘Sabotage’ After 11 Mystery Spills Coat Trinidad Beaches In Crude

By Emily Atkin

"Oil Company Cries ‘Sabotage’ After 11 Mystery Spills Coat Trinidad Beaches In Crude"

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In this May 2, 2013 photo, a leatherback turtle heads back into the ocean after burying her clutch of eggs in the sand at daybreak on a narrow strip of beach in Grande Riviere, Trinidad.

In this May 2, 2013 photo, a leatherback turtle heads back into the ocean after burying her clutch of eggs in the sand at daybreak on a narrow strip of beach in Grande Riviere, Trinidad.

CREDIT: AP Photo/David McFadden

The media is calling it one of Trinidad and Tobago’s worst environmental disasters ever.

The company responsible is calling it sabotage.

Petrotrin, Trinidad’s state-owned oil company, is accusing an unknown party of causing at least two out of the 11 recent oil spills that occurred from a pipeline in mid-December, cloaking miles of beaches with crude. At least 7,000 barrels of oil have spilled so far, and local officials have reportedly accused Petrotrin of trying to downplay the extent and size of the spill.

Company chairman Lindsay Gillette told reporters earlier this month that there was “strong evidence” to show that its facilities were “deliberately tampered with.” At one of the facilities, run by Trinity Exploration Production, Gillette said “two of the plugs were removed and you would [need] a very large wrench to remove that plug physically for that oil to flow”

Trinity has told local media that the spills were not its fault. “The evidence is out there but I don’t think it’s being articulated clearly,” Trinity executive chairman Bruce Dingwall said.

Now, the region’s Minister of Energy is being urged to commission an independent investigation into what caused the spill, how it has effected the area, and what needs to be done next.

“The inquiry must be done by people who don’t have anything to protect and no rear end to cover,” Keith Rowley, the leader of the Trinidad parliament’s opposition party, reportedly said Monday. “The evidence must be taken in public.”

So far, Petronin has already been hit with a $3.1 million fine from the country’s Environmental Management Authority, The company’s president, Khalid Hassanali, called it “harsh.” Petronin has also released a number of press releases claiming “significant progress” on spill clean-up efforts, and noting on Tuesday that no one had called an ambulance since Sunday.

A poll in Trinidad Express Newspapers showed that 84 percent of their readers supported an independent investigation into the cause and extent of the spill.

“There was no question of sabotage,” Trinidad member of Parliament Paula Gopee-Scoon said. “It was all a question of bad operations on the part of Petrotrin … It was a cover-up from day one.”

The Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists’ Club wrote in the Trinidad Express that they were “alarmed” at the current rate of spills, and questioned that citizens were getting accurate information on whether substances used for clean-up had harmful health effects on humans; whether seafood caught from local waters would be safe to eat; or which ocean areas are safe to swim and bathe in.

“Whether sabotage or not, the country needs to strengthen the preparedness of the sector, at all stages, from the maintenance of pipeline and related infrastructure, on-site facility security, detection of spills, the response to spillage and the dissemination of information to stakeholders,” the club wrote. “We hope this spill does not worsen, and will serve as a lesson as to why oil-spill prevention and response must be taken seriously by both the authorities and citizens of our country.”

The spill has a real chance to effect tourism in Trinidad and Tobago, which gets approximately 40,000 visitors every month, according to the country’s Ministry of Tourism. The Caribbean islands are popular tourist destinations, generally unaffected by hurricanes and strewn with mountains and beaches. Though Trinidad is currently in a low-tourism season, the spill first occurred in mid-December, a time when the country’s travel industry is generally booming. Specific effects on tourism are not yet known.

Photos of the spill can be found here.

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