Friday 4 December, 2020

UWI professor on FSO Nabarima: Better safe than sorry

Professor of Marine Biology at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine, Judith Gobin, says government's plan to review the progress of the offshore oil storage vessel, the FSO Nabarima, in a month's time, must be sped up.

Professor Gobin, who is Head of the Life Sciences Department at the UWI, said she was 'astounded that the local team described by Energy Minister Franklin Khan as comprising a senior Petroleum Engineer, an engineering officer with the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard and a Port State Inspector (Maritime Division, Ministry of Works and Transport) - did no technical assessment'.

She also noted Energy Minister Franklin Khan's comments that the team was not allowed to take photos or take equipment on board. 

'Further, the Minister went on to say that the team was not allowed to take any equipment on board. What Minister Khan has clarified for all concerned citizens of Trinidad and Tobago is that this high-level team went on an “observation” type of field trip.'

'It is safe to say that the expectation from nationals of Trinidad and Tobago was that the high-powered team would provide the country with real technical information such as - the structural integrity of the vessel, the integrity of the storage systems and the ballast waters systems etc. and what was being done to immediately remove the barrels of oil.'

She noted Minister of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs, Dr Amery Browne's comments that a request has been sent to be able to visit the vessel again in a month. She said however that more action is needed:

'Fishermen and Friends of the Sea and especially [Corporate Secretary] Gary Aboud must be lauded for his persistence and bringing this information to the fore. He has continuously warned us of this impending disaster from the first sighting.'

'The infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill which is considered the worst in history due to the severe environmental damage involved approximately 10.8 million gallons of crude. The Venezuelan-flagged FSO Nabarima is believed to be almost filled to its capacity of 1.4 million barrels of crude; that is approximately 5-times the amount that was on the Exxon Valdez.'

Professor Gobin also noted The Precautionary Principle, which must be adhered to in threats of serious or irreversible damage:

'The Precautionary Principle (coming out of the United Nations-hosted 1992 Earth Summit) is an environmental policy designed to protect global citizens from potentially adverse environmental influences, in the face of incomplete information about the risks these influences present.'

'In other words, “in the face of serious threats, a lack of scientific certainty never justifies inaction”. As explained in the Rio Declaration: “Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation".'

'The precautionary principle is imbedded within Trinidad and Tobago’s National Environmental Policy. We therefore need to weigh the “estimated costs of immediate action” against the “estimated potential cost of inaction”. Where the potential cost of inaction is plausible, significant and irreversible; we should act.'

'In other words, the Precautionary Principle is how policy makers say in language that we can all appreciate- it is better to be safe than sorry.'

Professor Gobin said she 'strongly recommends' that the high-powered team not wait for a month but 'aggressively pursue acquiring technical details which can inform an immediate plan of action'.

'The environmental disaster clock is ticking and the world is watching.'

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