Distressed Venezuelan oil tanker raises fears of ecological disaster in Caribbean

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There are growing fears that an oil tanker carrying millions of gallons of oil could dump its load into the sea between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago, causing environmental disaster.

The Venezuelan-flagged Nabarima has been in the Gulf of Paria since last January, when US sanctions against Venezuela made it illegal for companies that operate in the United States to trade with the country’s state-owned oil company.

Trinidad and Tobago’s energy and foreign ministers both told the Miami Herald newspaper that a team would visit the ship on Tuesday. Trinidadian officials were not immediately available for comment.

The Nabarima carries 1.3 million barrels of crude oil, according to Venezuelan politicians and green activist groups. With up to 80 million gallons of oil, a spill from the ship could cause ecological disaster: In the Exxon Valdex spill of 1989, one of the worst oil spills on record, 11 million gallons were released covering a area twice the size of Rhode Island. .

Venezuela has previously said the ship is safe, but environmental activists and politicians say new images show it is tilting at an increased rate.

The Nabarima is seen tilted in the Gulf of Paria, between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago, on Friday.Fishermen and Friends of the Sea / Reuters

The Trinidadian environmental group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea, which represents 50,000 people in the local fishing industry, has called for a national emergency. The group toured the ship by boat on Friday and posted a video showing Nabarima rocking and hanging by anchor chains.

Gary Aboud, general secretary of the group, said in the video: “If something happens, if we have bad weather, there are a number of circumstances that could cause the ship to flood, and then we don’t. have no recourse. “

The Nabarima is jointly owned by the Venezuelan national oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and Eni, the Italian oil giant.

PDVSA could not be reached immediately for comment. NBC News has reached out to Eni for comment.

Lawmakers in the Venezuelan National Assembly, who tend to criticize President Nicolás Maduro, called on the country’s government to urgently unload oil from Nabarima to avert disaster and said the risk had “increased alarmingly “.

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“Due to the weight and the tides, the ship is perceived to be more prone (listing) than what was reported last August,” said María Gabriela Hernández Del Castillo, chair of the assembly’s environment committee , in a press release.

The US Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago raised concerns about the ship in a statement Friday, warning that a spill “could have a negative impact not only on the Venezuelan people, but also on those in neighboring countries” .

NBC News has contacted the government of Trinidad and Tobago for comment.

Venezuela has previously denied any problems with Nabarima. In September, the offshore executive director of Venezuela’s national oil company, Pedro Figuera, said on Twitter that the Nabarima “meets environmental and operational standards.”

He later dismissed reports that the ship was dangerous as “lies” and said it met the required standards “despite alleged information from pseudo experts on social media.”



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