By Patrick Smith
Concerns are growing that an oil tanker carrying millions of gallons of oil could spill its load into the sea between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago, causing an ecological catastrophe.
The Venezuelan-flagged Nabarima has lain in the Gulf of Paria since last January when U.S. sanctions on Venezuela made it illegal for companies that operate in the U.S. to trade with the country’s state-owned oil company.
Trinidad and Tobago’s energy and foreign ministers both told to the Miami Herald newspaper that a team would visit vessel on Tuesday. Trinidadian officials were not immediately available for comment.
The Nabarima is carrying 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 vessel could cause an ecological disaster: In the Exxon Valdex spill of 1989, one of the worst oil spills recorded, 11 million gallons were released covering an area twice the size of Rhode Island.
Venezuela has previously said the vessel is safe, but environment activists and politicians say new pictures show it is tilting at an increased rate.
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 visited the ship by boat on Friday and posted a video showing Nabarima tilting and suspended by anchor chains.
Gary Aboud, the group’s corporate secretary, said in the video: “If something goes on, if we have bad weather, there are a number of circumstances that could causes the vessel to flood, and then we have no recourse.”
The Nabarima is jointly owned by the Venezuelan state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and Eni, the Italian oil giant.
PDVSA could not be immediately reached for comment. NBC News approached Eni for comment.