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Official says tilting Venezuelan tanker poses no risk as new images raise concerns of environmental catastrophe

23 October 2020

A damaged and idled oil tanker in the Caribbean poses no significant risk of spilling or causing an environmental catastrophe, a Trinidad and Tobago official said on October 22. Minister of Energy and Energy Industries Franklin Khan said the Venezuelan tanker, the FSO Nabarima, was stable despite images posted by an environmental group showing the vessel listing to one side.

Image: Fishermen and Friends of the Sea
Image: Fishermen and Friends of the Sea

The Nabarima is operated by Petrosucre, a joint venture between Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA and Italy’s Eni. It is currently sitting idle in the Paria Gulf between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago after Petrosucre suspended output due to US sanctions against Venezuela. The vessel is holding an estimated 1.3 million barrels of crude oil.

Minister of Energy and Energy Industries Franklin Khan told reporters on October 22 that the Nabarima has been operating for over 10 years in the area without any issues until the US imposed sanctions on Venezuela. The sanctions mean Petrosucre is unable to sell to its main buyer, PDVSA’s US-based refining subsidiary Citgo Petroleum.

Minister Khan said that after environmental group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) posted footage and images of the tilting Nabarima online, Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs made contact with Venezuela and raised concerns. A team of experts was subsequently sent to the vessel to meet with Venezuelan government officials and inspect the tanker.

Minister Khan said the report showed that while some pumps were in need of repair, all systems on the Nabarima appeared to be functional and maintenance met the satisfaction of the experts. Khan also said that Venezuelan officials showed the team their oil spill contingency plans.

Khan said the major conclusions from the report were that the Nabarima is upright and stable with no visible tilt, and there is no imminent risk of tilting or sinking, there is no water ingress, and there was no mixing of bilge water and therefore a minimal risk of an oil spill at this time. A follow-up visit to the vessel has been scheduled for next month.

On October 20, Venezuela began to offload oil in an operation that is expected to take just over a month. PDVSA has labelled claims by environmentalists that the Nabarima poses a significant risk as “fake news”.

Concerns about the Nabarima were raised as Venezuela’s oil industry continues to degrade in the face of US sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, FFOS said "The FSO Nabarima's situation is neither new nor novel and we believe that both the Maduro Regime and our Government have been dragging their feet while an ecological disaster is looming in our shared Gulf of Paria.”

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