SCARBOROUGH, Tobago – Government agencies are working to control a shipwreck that has the potential to turn into an environmental disaster for islands that depend on the ocean for tourism and other uses in the southeast Caribbean.
The Trinidad & Tobago Coast Guard reported it first learned about an overturned vessel on Feb. 7, and since then, pollutants have been reported on some beaches of Tobago.
Tobago is one of many islands that make up the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, which is just a few miles off the coastline of South America.
Video and photos from the scene showed volunteers working to clean up oil along beaches and booms being deployed around the capsized vessel.
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So far, the Tobago House of Assembly has declared the event a Tier II disaster but could seek international aid if the disaster alert status is raised.
"For safety reasons, fisherfolk and beachgoers are strongly advised to stay clear of the area extending from Rockly Bay to Canoe Bay," the island’s emergency management stated.
Authorities said the vessel is known as the "Gulfstream" and may have been carrying lumber and sand when it overturned.
Divers reported noticing damage to a reef but have been unable to ascertain how extensive the impacts are.
Prime Minister Keith Rowley is set to tour the island over the weekend and could release more information on the country’s preliminary assessment.
The environmental disaster is unfolding in the run-up to the days of Carnival, a popular celebration before the start of Lent.
Authorities have not stated if any major celebrations will be canceled due to the ongoing mitigation efforts but at least one parade has already been called off as a precaution.
The country has not released information on the vessel’s registration and has said there are no visible signs of human life left on the boat, meaning any crew that survived the crash likely fled the scene.
Winds and waves out of the south and east could send more of the oil sheen toward the shore.
TEMA Director Allan Stewart said the cost of the disaster is still unknown, and specialized cleanup equipment was said to be unavailable.