An ‘environmental catastrophe’ awaits Venezuela and Caribbean

A video image released by the Fishermen and Friends of the Sea NGO on October 22 shows the tilted Nabarima oil tanker – ESN/AFP

Caracas- Venezuela’s opposition warned of a potential “environmental catastrophe” Thursday as a damaged oil tanker threatened to spill 1.3 million barrels of crude into waters separating Venezuela from Trinidad and Tobago.

A video image released by the Fishermen and Friends of the Sea NGO on October 22 shows the tilted Nabarima oil tanker  – ESN/AFP

The Nabarima tanker, anchored for several months in the Gulf of Paria, is used to store oil but video footage shared on October 16 by the Fisherman and Friends of the Sea NGO, showed it tilting.

According to Eudis Girot, a Venezuelan oil sector union leader, the 855-foot (264-meter) ship has had maintenance problems since 2014.

But he told AFP those problems “have been ignored” by state oil company PDVSA.

Girot said several PDVSA employees reported on October 12 that the tanker was listing by eight percent while the engine room is flooded and water pumps have broken down.

“If the oil is not transferred, and even if the Nabarima can be stabilized, we risk a permanent environmental catastrophe,” opposition legislator Robert Alcala told AFP.

The Nabarima is owned by Petrosucre, a company majority owned by PDVSA, with Italian multinational oil and gas firm Eni holding a 26 percent share.

According to Luis Stefanelli, another opposition legislator, PDVSA has sent two ships to try to unload the Nabarima.

PDVSA has not commented but last month it branded as “fake news” claims by environmentalists that the Nabarima was in a state of disrepair.

The operation to transfer the oil has been hindered by US sanctions against PDVSA. 

Oil spills are common in Venezuela due to a lack of infrastructure maintenance.

The South American country is almost entirely dependent on its oil revenue, but production has dropped from 3.2 million barrels a day over a decade ago to just 400,000 now.

The opposition and analysts accuse the government of corruption and neglect while the regime of President Nicolas Maduro blames US sanctions.