Environmental Crisis in Tobago: Overturned Vessel ‘Gulfstream’ Damages Coral Reef and Causes Oil Spill

Capsized “Gulfstream”

An overturned vessel identified as ‘Gulfstream’ has become the source of an environmental disaster off the coast of Canoe Bay in Tobago, causing significant damage to the island’s lesser-known Flying Coral Reef. As the country gears up for Carnival celebrations next week, the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) braces for the incident to escalate to a tier three disaster, drawing international attention to the unfolding crisis.

The wreckage has led to the leakage of an oil-like substance, contaminating nearby waters and reaching the shoreline. Clean-up teams have been mobilized, yet the cause of the Gulfstream’s capsizing remains undetermined. The Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) Director, Allan Stewart, confirmed the vessel’s name but indicated that efforts to ascertain its origin and registration continue.

THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine highlighted the dire impact on marine life and the coral reef. Underwater footage revealed the vessel’s destructive path through the reef, prompting the Ministry of Works and Transport to assist in removing the wreckage from the waters. Augustine acknowledged the need for a serious discussion on maritime security and the management of Tobago’s maritime space.

The Environmental Management Authority has collected samples of the leaked substance for testing, as authorities work to mitigate the environmental damage. Coast Guard officers, initially set to dive near the vessel, found the area too dangerous, underscoring the severity of the situation.

In response to the disaster, Augustine mentioned the possibility of international assistance, noting the spill’s extensive reach and the deployment of offshore and nearshore absorbent booms. Agencies including the Ministry of Energy, the Institute of Marine Affairs, and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) are actively involved in the response efforts.

The incident has prompted advisories for fisherfolk and beachgoers to avoid the affected area, extending from Rockly Bay to Canoe Bay. The THA’s efforts to address the spill and its repercussions on the environment and local industries underscore the urgent need for effective disaster management and environmental protection measures.

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