Trinidadian Oil Spill Pollutes Beaches in Venezuela

If there’s one thing Venezuela does not need international help with, it’s poisoning our own beaches. Alas, that’s the kind of international help we’re getting.

You’d think Venezuela has enough problems with its own crazy regime and mismanaged oil company, but no: now we’re dealing with our neighbors’ crap too. After contributing to the death of three Venezuelan doctors at sea, a Trinidadian oil spill has started washing ashore, polluting beaches all over Eastern Venezuela.

Alas, it’s happened before. In 2013, Petrotrin, Trinidad and Tobago’s state owned oil company, spilled over 7,000 barrels of fuel oil in 11 separate oil spills. This was “presumably” caused by a faulty pipeline, which, get this, “had not received any major maintenance in 17 years.” The oil coated marine life, mangroves were smothered in it, blobs of black tar washed ashore, the air was dense with wafts of gasoline, fishermen were unable to go out to sea, the sea was too black and thick for the ships to sail.

Back then, Petrotrin failed to even notice the spills, or if they did, they didn’t alert the press or pertinent agencies for a full four days. Only when reports from citizens and environmentalists started popping up in the media did they activate contingency plans. But it was already too late: the coastal communities had already been impacted.

PDVSA’s efforts were (obviously) not enough: oil keeps washing ashore, and has now reached as far as Los Roques.

Even today, marine life is still washing up dead from the spills back then, and the communities that lived along the coast and whose livelihood depended and still depends on sea resources have seen their lives dramatically changed.

Ever since, Petrotrin has had almost monthly small scale oil spills. But last April 23rd, over 300 barrels of bunker fuel had leaked into the Gulf of Paria from a ruptured storage tank in Petrotrin’s Pointe-a-Pierre refinery. Only this time the oil would not just stay in Trinidad, but would reach our shores.

Once it was clear that the spills would reach Venezuelan shores, Trinidad and Tobago informed Venezuela. And, in an amazing display of “doing your job”’, PDVSA and the Environment Ministry actually launched a contingency plan, after conducting aerial surveys on on April 27.

By May 10th, PDVSA was patting itself on the back, saying that the cleanup plan in the Paria Peninsula was already 60% complete.

But PDVSA’s efforts were (obviously) not enough: oil keeps washing ashore, and has now reached as far as Los Roques. The sight of aquamarine water and white sandy beaches with crusts of black tar stuck on them is jarring.

But PDVSA’s efforts were (obviously) not enough: oil keeps washing up ashore, and has now reached as far as Los Roques.

As of today, at least 17 beaches are confirmed to be contaminated from the spill.

The situation is dire, especially in Sucre, where many of the beaches affected are important sea turtle nesting sites.

Volunteers have been quick to act. Every day, in different communities, they have been cleaning up the most affected beaches in Nueva Esparta and Los Roques. They have been asking for PDVSA and MPPEA to help coordinate efforts between different institutions.

Every oil spill is a tragedy. Cleanup is tricky and never enough. You can only remove dense, visible oil, scrub some pelicans, wash some turtles, but much of the oil will seep into the soil and dissolve in the water. It will continue to poison marine communities for many years to come. And yes, that includes coastal human populations.

If Venezuela had the diplomatic muscle, it might try to get Petrotrin to pay up. But we’re way too busy courting Trinidad and Tobago’s vote at the Organization of American States to put any serious pressure on them. Considering Petrotrin’s almost monthly spills, we can be sure this won’t be the last of these.