A three-person team sent by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago (GORTT) to inspect the FSO Nabarima has determined the floating storage and offloading unit to be in stable condition – with no tilt, list or water ingress. They drew this conclusion even as Energy Minister Franklin Khan subsequently noted that the team was not allowed to undertake an in-depth technical assessment of the situation.
“We weren’t allowed to go with instruments as though we are regulators in the industry. We were making a trip that was coordinated by Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was an international trip from one government to another and we were allowed to observe and take notes to ascertain the veracity of what they have been telling us,” Khan said.
The team reported to the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries (MEEI) that the engine room, the generator room, the boiler room, the machine control room, the tank control room, the main deck, the pumps, the bilge and other critical areas within the vessel, “seemed to have been fine,” after they were taken on a guided tour of the FSO Nabarima.
A summary of the report’s findings was presented to the public by Minister Khan at a press conference yesterday, just two days after the October 20 inspection took place.
There, he advised members of the media that the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (GoRTT) intended to recommend that Venezuela find a way to speed up the process of evacuating the crude oil.
T&T Action Kickstarted By FFOS Report
This analysis is the most recent step in a chain of events that began, as Minister Khan indicated, when the MEEI “was alerted by a local environmental group, via correspondence dated August 24 and other social media posts, of a (tanker) located within Venezeulan waters, with a total capacity of 1.3 million barrels which was allegedly tilted and at risk of capsizing.”
Contrasting reports about the lack of transparency by the Venezuelan government, Khan highlighted that the Venezuelan government’s official communications were forthright about two “unwanted events” that occurred in early September causing the eight degree tilt seen in viral photographs on social media.
“With regard to the tilt they said there was loss of stability with a negative trim of 3.5 meters, which is the tilting of the vessel, and a 7 degree list to the starboard side due to failure of the ballast system,” Khan said.
“Unwanted event number two was entry of unwanted water in the bilge in the fourth deck of the engine room, due to valve failure associated with the bottom suction and emergency bilge draining system. The Flooding of the engine room led to some catastrophe failure of a number of electrical details.”
Khan said that these issues have since been rectified.
Fuel Transfer Not Without Risks
The report nevertheless recommends that the process of evacuating the oil should be sped up. The process that is currently underway could take up to 35 days which Khan deemed not ideal. It entails pumping the 1.3 million barrels’ worth of crude oil from the FSO Nabarima to a barge that will have to make several trips as it can only carry 30,000 barrels at a time. It then transfers the oil to a tanker called the ‘ICARO’, which has a loading capacity of 300,000 barrels’ worth of crude oil.
“The extended period for the offload in itself poses a slight risk although the operation is deemed to be safe,” Khan said.
He added that GoRTT would have preferred to see a larger vessel, “come alongside and they do a ship to ship transfer,” which he estimates could have emptied the vessel in as little as two days.
The report also revealed that the FSO Nabarima is currently undergoing maintenance work where it is located 17 miles west of the international maritime border between T&T and Venezuela in the Gulf of Paria. According to Khan, the vessel has been operating in the Gulf for 10 years, inconspicuously, where it has stored oil procured from the Corocoro Field through a joint venture between Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PVDSA) and an Italian energy multinational called ‘Eni’.
US Sanctions At Play
Khan attributed the root cause of the vessel’s difficulties to a sweeping set of sanctions signed by Donald Trump, President of the United States, which made it difficult for Venezuela to sell the crude oil stored onboard.
According to former US National Security Advisor, John Bolton, the 2019 sanctions were designed to force countries and companies to choose between doing business with the US or with Venezuela under the threat that new sanctions could be imposed on anyone who supports the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
Khan told the media that Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago enjoy a “friendly relationship” reminding listeners that when the defunct Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (Petrotrin) suffered a major oil spill in 2016, Venezuela was severely affected and offered to assist in clean-up operations pro bono.
Khan further noted that there exists a treaty agreement between Trinidad and Tobago and the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela that covers the Gulf of Paria and that an oil spill contingency plan can be invoked by either party if they perceive a viable threat to their environment. He stated, however, that “we had no technical basis” to invoke the plan.
He said that Trinidad and Tobago will request to schedule a follow up visit for one month from now and said that in the meantime, they had determined the threat level to be minimal.
Diplomatic Action Guided T&T Response
Also speaking at the press conference was Minister of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs, Dr Amery Browne who stated that much of what has been done to address the issue has taken place outside of the media spotlight.
“A lot of diplomatic activity by definition is not done in the full glare of the public and there is often use of more quiet channels to get our objective achieved and to a large extent, the objective has been achieved.”
He thanked the general public for its continued vigilance on the matter which he characterized as “good sign in a democracy”.
The officials provided no photographs or video from the MEEI assessment team visit to the FSO Nabarima. The team, that spent approximately 3.5 hours on the Nabarima, included Craig Boodoo, Senior Petroleum Engineer at the Ministry of Energy & Energy Affairs; Lt Warner, an engineering officer in the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard; and Michael Daniel, a port state inspector who is IMO certified, from the maritime services division in the Ministry of Works and Transport, that has jurisdiction over maritime matters for Trinidad and Tobago.