As the 2017 International Oil Spill Conference (IOSC) was wrapping up in Los Angeles, CA, an oil spill on a magnitude no one had expected was making its way across the lower Wider Caribbean Region. The Regional Activity Center, The Regional Marine Pollution Emergency, Information and Training Centre – Caribe (RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe), that was established in 1994 under the Cartegena Convention, stood up for the first time as a regionally coordinating body to facilitate communication, coordination and exchange of information during a major spill as was designed and intended under the Caribbean Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation (OPRC) Plan. What was confirmed months later, was that a large spill from a refinery in Trinidad and Tobago had in fact impacted the States of Venezuela, Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba. On April 23, 2017, it became public knowledge that a spill had occurred from a 150,000 barrel (6.3 million gallon) waste oil tank at the Petrotrin Refinery in Pointe-a Pierre, Trinidad. What fallowed was successive reporting of subsurface oil and tarballs washing ashore over a thirty-six day period: first on Venezuelan Gulf of Paria coasts; then Paria, Isla Margarita, Los Roques and La Orchila coasts; followed by Bonnaire; then Klein Curacao and Curacao; and ultimately beaches in Aruba. Had it not been for the coordinating body of RAC/REMPEITCCaribe, these impacts may have never been officially connected to a single point source. Miraculously, through the Regional Center each of the impacted States exchanged oil samples from each other's coasts and the potential source tank in Trinidad. Subsequent analysis from laboratories in the Netherlands proved that the oiling events, which occurred across 600 nautical miles of ocean, were in fact from the same source, Storage Tank #70 of the Petrotrin Refinery.

This paper discusses how RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe worked across borders to help identify the source of a spill that reached across more than 600 miles of the Wider Caribbean Region, and shows just how connected these countries are. It sheds light on a major oil spill that few people outside the impacted countries are aware of, and it presents the April 2017 Petrotrin Spill as a realization that, not only are these scenarios likely, they are real cause for increased regional spill coordination and preparation.

The Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico connects over twenty-seven nations comprising the Wider Caribbean Region (WCR). In 1991, the Vista Bella sank with 13,300 barrels of No 6 Fuel Oil (API = 7–14) just 12 miles East of Nevis in 2,000 feet of water, position 17°17.00 N, 62°18.00 W. The far reaching oil spill that followed the sinking impacted the marine and coastal environments of many Caribbean Islands, including: St Kitts and Nevis; Saba (NL); St Martin (NL); Saint Barthélémy (FR); The British Virgin Islands; The U.S. Virgin Islands; and Puerto-Rico. Studies of ocean currents have investigated the complex nature of the Caribbean Sea which is characterized by westward movement of the Caribbean Current flowing from the Lesser Antilles to the Gulf of Mexico (GoM), through the Yucatan Channel, where the influence of the Florida Loop Current (LC) takes effect. In a 2016 presentation provided during an IMO sponsored workshop in Guadelope, Claudine Tierceline, Caribbean Representative for CEDRE, showed results of a 2004 data buoy tracking study conducted by France which demonstrated that floating objects placed in the surface waters of the Eastern Caribbean could move across the Caribbean, into the GOM, and to the LC over several months. Additionally, studies of satellite imagery of the outflow of the Orinoco River and the movement of sargassum into and across the entire Caribbean further supports likely circulation patterns of surface material throughout the region. Given there are presently more than 15 Caribbean States producing, exploring or have recently discovered oil, it would also not be unrealistic to imagine potential far-reaching impacts of an IXTOC-1 (1979) or Deepwater Horizon (2010) like continuous release of oil occurring from an offshore unit in the Lower Wider Caribbean Region.

The International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response, and Co-operation (OPRC Convention) facilitates international co-operation and mutual assistance in preparing for and responding to a major oil pollution incident. The Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region (Cartagena Convention) is a legally binding treaty for twenty-seven Sates of the WCR to protect, develop and manage their common waters individually or jointly. The Oil Spill Protocol for the Cartagena Convention calls for cooperation in taking all necessary measures, both preventive and remedial, for the protection of the marine environment from oil spill incidents.

Both the Cartagena Oil Spill Protocol and the OPRC Convention place obligations on Contracting Parties to establish and maintain, or ensure the establishment and maintenance of, the means to respond to oil spill incidents. Such means are to include: enactment of legislation, the preparation of contingency plans; oil pollution reporting procedures; communication capabilities; and mechanisms or arrangement to co-ordinate a response to an oil pollution incident with the capabilities to mobilize the necessary resources.

The Regional Activity Centre/Regional Marine Pollution Emergency, Information and Training Center – Wider Caribbean Region (RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe) was established on June 15, 1995 through collaborative efforts of the Parties to the Cartagena Convention, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), and the International Maritime Organization. The Center's staff has included representatives from Curacao and the U.S. Coast Guard and other Parties since the inception, and today includes staff seconded from the Jamaica Maritime Authority, as well as full-time consultant supported by the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA). The functions of the Center include:

  • The preparation, periodic review and updating of contingency plans to promote compatibility of the plans of the Contracting Parties;]

  • Maintaining a current inventory of emergency response equipment, materials and expertise available in the WCR;

  • Identifying or maintaining means for emergency response communications;

  • The exchange of information related to the Protocol including information on laws, regulations, institutions, and operational procedures relating to oil spill incidents and means of reducing and combating the harmful effects of oil spills; and

  • Providing, on a regional basis, forums for discussing activities related to regional emergency response activities

Under the coordination of RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe, and as required by Article 8 of the Oil Spill Protocol to the Cartagena Convention, the Island States and Territories of the Caribbean developed a Regional OPRC Plan (Caribbean Island OPRC Plan). This Plan provides a framework under which Island States and Territories may cooperate at the operational level in responding to oil spill incidents. The overall objective of the Plan is to provide a cooperative scheme for mutual assistance from member States, Territories, and organizations in the event of a major oil spill incident which exceeds the response capability of a national government or oil industry.

Over the past 25 years, RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe has delivered hundreds of national and regional capacity building workshops, developed two regional response plans, and maintained a system of networks to promote the implementation of best practices for preparing for, preventing and recovering from pollution incidents to some of the most economically challenged countries of the world. Hundreds of government and non-government maritime professionals from states and territories throughout the WCR have benefitted greatly from RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe's work in providing training, hosting workshops, serving as a regional hub of marine environmental best practices, and fulfilling its mission of building capacities and addressing gaps in the implementation of international conventions throughout the WCR. Through these accomplishments, the Centre has earned a reputation as the leading organization for providing technical assistance and promoting best practices to prevent and respond to pollution in the WCR. Though its origins are deeply rooted in the OPRC Convention, the mission of RAC/REMPEITCCaribe has greatly expanded to include assisting countries to implement all major marine pollution instruments of the IMO, a United Nations (U.N.) Specialized Agency. These include, amongst others: the Protocol on Preparedness, Response and Co-operation to Pollution Incidents by Hazardous and Noxious Substances (OPRC-HNS Protocol), the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM Convention), the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage (Civil liability and Fund Conventions), the International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships (AFS), and others. Over time, as new maritime environmental conventions were adopted globally, RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe became the regional coordinator for providing training and promoting prevention and preparedness in these new conventions throughout the region.

On April 23, 2017 an oil spill was reported from a large storage tank at the Petrotrin refinery in Pointe-a-Pierre in Trinidad and Tobago. On April 28th, after consultation with RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe, a Pollution Report (POLREP) was submitted by a representative of the Trinidad and Tobago Government under the requirements of the Caribbean Island OPRC Plan. Beginning on May 26th, oil in the form of tar balls and oil patties began washing ashore on the northern coast of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. While it was known that oiling impacts also had previously occurred the weeks prior on coastlines and islands in Venezuela, it was only speculated that the oiling events were connected. Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao reported that weathered oil was observed floating just below the surface, making it impossible for them to monitor the slicks from the air and make effective use of oil booming. When washed ashore, the oil took the form of sticky oil patches, patties and tar balls. The oil tended to be hard in the morning and sticky with daytime temperatures

On May 29th, at the request of the Maritime Authority of Curacao, RAC/REMPEITCCaribe met with the Curacao Prime Minister and assisted a council of Curacao's newly elected Ministers, and relevant agencies in Curacao, in setting up an initial oil spill action plan. After an enquiry from RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe, an official from Bonaire provided a POLREP as well on May 29th. RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe, as Secretariat and Coordinator of the regional Caribbean Island OPRC Plan was also requested by officials in the Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba Governments to assist in formulating national as well as regional responses to the oiling events. RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe initiated a daily regional conference call amongst the primary response authorities of the impacted States of Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire. Subsequently, representatives from Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, and UNEP's Regional Activity Center in Trinidad joined the daily calls. During the first regional call on May 30, the representatives from Aruba and Curacao agreed to submit POLREPs in the format found in the Caribbean Island OPRC Plan to RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe who would in turn forward to other regional OPRC/Cartagena Convention Focal Points. These reports were received by Aruba on May 30th and Curacao on June 1st. The assistance of the U.S. National Oceanic at Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was also employed through RAC-REMPEITC in conducting a spill trajectory analysis.

Initially, the calls were held to discuss regional coordination and any requests for assistance, as well as to provide technical assistance as needed and as outlined in the regional Caribbean Island OPRC Plan. The first calls primarily concerned the impact of the oiling events and the cleaning efforts undertaken on the coasts and islands of the impacted states. As discussions progressed, the regional participants looked to RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe in helping to facilitate the adoption of mutually agreed upon sampling protocols and in brokering the exchange of oil samples between the five States for oil spill fingerprinting and toxicity analysis.

In total 19 calls were conducted in the period between May and December 2017. At the request of the Government of Curacao, RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe also facilitated a number of calls to coordinate discussions between the ABC Islands, The Netherlands and the laboratory of Rijkswaterstaat in The Netherlands. The subjects of those calls concerned the sampling procedures, sample requirements, scope of the analysis to be conducted by the Rijkswaterstaat laboratory, the interpretation of the results and the possibilities to share those results with the other countries.

Trinidad and Tobago

On April 23, 2017 a leak was reported at the base of Storage Tank #70 at the Petrotrin Refinery in Pointe-a-Pierre, Trinidad and Tobago, that had been in operation for 100 years. The reports indicated that the oil went into a secondary containment area and then into the Gulf of Paria. Storage Tank #70 had a capacity of 150,000 barrels (bbls), and prior to the spill, it was full of waste oil with a consistency close to that of bunker, or heavy fuel oil. Petrotrin, Trinidad and Tobago's state-owned oil company until being shut down on November 30, 2018, initially reported that only 388 bbls of oil were discharged into the water, however, less than 20,000 of 150,000 bbls of oil remained in the tank after the discharge was secured. On April 7, 2017, a representative from Trinidad and Tobago's Ministry of Works and Transport (MOWT) contacted RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe to report the spill and inquire on the process for submitting a POLREP under the requirements of the Caribbean Island OPRC Plan. Although MEEI was the lead agency, and MOWT was not actively involved in the response, a POLREP indicating a 300 bbl spill was submitted by MOWT to RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe April 28th.

At some time following the spill, a Tier 2 response was initiated through the Trinidad and Tobago National Oil Spill Contingency Plan and dispersants were applied. In total eight (8) totes (2200 gallons) of dispersant Dasic Slickgone NS, which is approved by the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries, was applied by Petrotrin to heavy patches of oil and heavy sheen in the Gulf of Paria via tug boats using spray arms on April 25th and April 27th. Aerial surveys were conducted to monitor the border with Venezuela and for application of dispersant. Visual observations indicated an orange/ coffee colored plume was visible in the water when the dispersant was applied to the oil. Communication was also established with Venezuela, under the Bilateral Oil Spill Contingency Plan (BOSCP) between the two countries. As part of the communication procedures, images from the aerial surveys were shared with PDVSA and representatives from Petrotrin exchanged samples with Venezuelan representatives using a chain of custody form and sampling procedures developed by IMA.

Shoreline impacts were reported to be minimal on the Trinidad coast, and limited to the port area. Clean-up operations were reported to be completed by May 26, although the methods used in the clean-up process were not discussed during the regional calls. Remediation and monitoring continued for several months and by August 23 were expected to soon finish. A fishery advisory was issued in the initial weeks of the spill, but no closures were mandated. In the immediate area of the spill, there were reports of over 80 oiled pelicans, half of which died and there were no reported fish kills.


While it took time for RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe to establish communications with an official representative from Venezuela, a representative of an environmental activist group within Venezuela made contact with RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe by May 26th to report significant oiling impacts. Analysis of the media and environmental reports sent to RAC/REMPEITCCaribe suggested the following oil impacts in Venezuela: approximately 20 kilometer of beach Gulf of Paria; 11 kilometers of beach on Isla Margarita; 3 kilometers of beach on La Orchila: and small areas of beach on Los Roques. The media also displayed images of thick patties of heavy oil on beaches, as well as oiled birds and other wildlife.

When PDVSA first joined the regional calls on June 6th, they indicated cleanup operations on the beaches of Isla Margarita, La Orchila and Los Roques were complete. The affected areas in the Gulf of Paria and north of the Gulf of Paria were 85% clean, but oil was still floating up from the bottom, resulting in some new oiling on the beaches. The cleanup operations in these areas were later indicated fully completed during the August 23rd call with water quality monitoring still ongoing in the Gulf of Paria and around the Paria peninsula. PDVSA also reported that subsurface sampling and observations were complete in the Gulf of Paria by August 23rd. During the period following the start of the regional coordination, several media reported new oiling events occurring on the Venezuelan coast, however these reports were not confirmed and PDVSA indicated that no new confirmed oiling events occurred after June 13th. While Venezuela did not submit a POLREP or provide a detailed impact assessment, official representatives did indicate on the regional calls that they were unsure of how the oil waste collected would be disposed of, and how much it might cost.


Oiling on Bonaire started on May 26th and continued until the first regional call at May 30th. From May 31st, Bonaire reported a decrease in the amount of oiling and also the size of the oil patches and tar balls. However, at some locations tar balls kept washing ashore until July 20th.

Officials from Bonaire indicted that the main impacts were on the east coast, with moderately scattered and broken weathered oil accumulation on beaches and in lagoons. However, oil was also found on Playa Grandi, on the northern coast of the island. The area most affected was Lagun, which is a bay in the northern section of the east coast. Lac Bay, which is a tourism area, was also impacted with oil as well. Using irrigation drip system components, a submerged barrier was constructed at the entrance of Lac Bay, which was found to be an effective solution in keeping out tar balls.

The clean-up activities in Bonaire were primarily conducted by volunteers, coordinated by the foundation Stinapa, which organized two large clean-up events. Volunteers were divided into teams, each with a group leader and the Red Cross was present with provisions supplied by local stores. The legal department made arrangements to deal with the risks for the volunteers. Clean-up equipment, including buckets, gloves and tyvek suits, was available on the island. A shipment with two pallets of additional response equipment was sent to Bonaire from The Netherlands.

The clean-up actions were successful in removing contaminated waste from beach areas. However, the rocky coastline on the East Coast was hard to access. Therefore, for some of these areas it was chosen to leave the oil for natural degradation.

As per 20 July, a total of about 21 tons of contaminated waste was collected. The waste was stored on plastic at the local waste treatment company Selibon, while authorities were seeking for a solution. At the time of the 17th call on August 23, discussions were still ongoing with Selibon whether they could dispose of the waste. The alternative was to export the waste to The Netherlands, in close consultation with Rijkswaterstaat.

Experts were consulted regarding the safety for swimmers and eating of local fish. Generally these risks were considered low. Therefore no restrictions were imposed. It was advised not to eat any fish that is contaminated with oil or smells like oil. 7 birds were reported rescued and kept in cages and 4 to 5 boobies were reported dead due to the oil. Rijkswaterstaat contracted Sea Alarm, who went to Bonaire to help rehabilitate and release the birds.


Oiling on Curacao started on May 27 at Klein Curacao, an island off the East Coast/Eastpunt and popular tourist destination. Subsequently the North coast of Curacao from St. Jorisbaai to Un Boka has received scattered oil patties in the bays and rocky areas, with increased accumulation moving to the northwest end of the island. No oil was observed on the southern coast. In the first weekend of June the oiling started to decrease.

On Monday May 29, a council of Curacao's newly elected Ministers, and relevant agencies in Curacao met with the objective of setting up an oil spill action plan and assigning responsibilities. As the official version of the national contingency plan was outdated, these responsibilities are not assigned and need to be determined on the ministerial level. As a result, the response could not commence before any decision on this level was taken, which in this case was two days. The harbor master was assigned the role of oil spill coordinator, putting him in charge of the overall coordination of the clean-up.

The clean-up operations were conducted by volunteers, under the coordination of several NGO's including STCC (Sea Turtle Conservation Curacao), Carmabi and Uniek Curacao. Private companies provided equipment and food for the volunteers. In a later stage, the Dutch Navy was contacted for providing support, both in terms of personnel and equipment.

After the initial clean-up actions, focus was shifted from removing oil from the beaches to removing debris as, with oil still washing ashore, beaches without debris are easier to clean. Another reason for this decision was that the amount of contaminated waste at beaches with a lot of debris was found to be very high. By removing the debris, only the actual oil had to be treated as contaminated waste.

Contaminated waste was collected at a dedicated area of the landfill. As of 23 August, it was not clear how the waste would be disposed of. Four birds were found dead, several were kept in cages for recovery and rehabilitation. During the various meetings with the response team, which were either attended by RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe or of which a report was provided to RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe, the following issues and lessons learnt were identified in addition to the above matters:

  • In the first days tourists on Klein Curacao were reported touching the oil with bare hands.

  • During the clean-up process, the fatigue of volunteers became an issue. A small group of volunteers, related to the NGOs coordinated the actions, conducted most of the activities. In later stage other volunteers, not linked to the NGOs, were also involved.

  • For some of the affected areas, it was difficult to find information about the ownership and management of those specific areas.

  • Some difficulties were experienced in the acquisition of the required equipment and PPE, including gloves, buckets and protective clothing. These were initially purchased from stores. However, towards the end of the clean-up process some of these products were no longer available on the island, due to the high demand on Curacao but also on the neighboring islands Bonaire and Aruba.

  • Since most of the cleaning actions were organized by NGOs with a specific interest in sea turtles, most clean-up actions were aimed at cleaning the sea turtle nesting areas. As a result, other locations (specifically St. Jorisbaai) were not cleaned until a later stage and it was very difficult to mobilize volunteers for these activities.

  • Several volunteers reported severe damage to cars due to the poor accessibility of some of the polluted areas.

  • Procedures are needed that specify how to treat protected animals in case of an oil spill. It is not allowed to keep these animals in homes, but due to the lack of other facilities this is the only way of rehabilitating these animals.

  • It would be helpful if more detailed information on the hazardous characteristics of the substance spilled was available in an earlier stage. Also the effects on the food chain and especially fish should be assessed.

  • Initially only samples were taken on Klein Curacao. Samples were taken at other locations at a much later stage. As most of the areas were already cleaned and new oiling was limited, it was difficult to get proper samples of the affected areas for fingerprinting analysis.


Oiling on Aruba started on May 29, with weathered oil coming ashore on the beaches of the Northeast coast. Impacted beaches were approximately 50% covered in weathered oil for a distance of approximately 30 kilometers. As with Curacao and Bonaire, the oil tends to be hard in the morning and sticky with rising daytime temperatures. Efforts were concentrated on scooping and removing all the oily sand down to a depth of approximately 30 cm. Clean-up activities were predominantly conducted by volunteers. The government of Aruba contracted Repsol for the provision of 250 m of ocean booms, 200 m of bay booms and five response experts. The experts advised the local crisis team, conducted a survey of the incident action plan (IAP), took samples to assess the safety of the natural pool (a popular tourist attraction), attended meetings with stakeholders and drafted a report on post-spill actions.

The northern shore, including the national part Arikok, was entirely locked off during the clean-up process. At other places people were advised not to touch the oil with their bare hands. Authorities have advised people to use PPE (gloves and shovel) while cleaning. Tyvek suits are only being advised for cleanup of liquid oil. All beaches were monitored by the local sea turtle foundation, who walk the beaches every day.

From June 6, oil coverage was down to 1% and operations were scaled down to post-oil spill phase with a focus on monitoring. A tar patty of 1 meter by 3 meters on the east coast will left to natural degradation as the risk of cleaning at that location was considered too high.

As of 7 June one bird has reportedly died as a result of the oiling events.

During the third conference call, on June 1st, the concept of exchanging oil samples between Trinidad and Tobago and the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao), was introduced, with the intention of using RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe as a neutral third-party facilitator. While Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela already had initially exchanged samples under a Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries, Venezuela's State-owned oil and gas Company (PDVSA), acting on behalf of Venezuela, later indicated interest in participating in the exchange with the islands as well.

The conditions and execution of this exchange, involving four labs and oil samples from five countries, were discussed extensively during the coordinating calls. As discussions progressed the regional participants looked to RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe in helping to facilitate the adoption of mutually agreed upon sampling protocols and brokering the exchange of oil samples between the five States for oil spill fingerprinting and toxicity analysis. An agreement letter on the sample exchange was established and agreed upon by all countries, stating that replicate samples from all countries would be sent to RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe, who would in turn act as the neutral body in the exchange. After reception of all samples and after verification of the state of the samples and the related documentation, the replicate samples would be released to the other receiving states. Each party would then conduct their own fingerprinting analysis in their respective laboratories (Rijkswaterstaat laboratory in The Netherlands for the ABC Islands, and IMA for Trinidad and Tobago). As agreed, each party collected samples, then sent replicates of each sample to RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe who would in turn documented the receipt of all samples and forwarded the replicates to the other participating parties. The actual exchange that took place on June 22, 2017 involved The ABC Islands, Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries (MEEI) and PDVSA. MEEI also coordinated an exchange of samples with Petrotrin, who conducted their own fingerprinting analysis in the United States. After the completion of the exchange of samples, the coordinating calls were continued on a lower frequency. The main issue discussed at this stage was the exchange of the results of the fingerprinting analyses conducted by the various laboratories.

On July 21, 2017, Inwinning en Gegevensanalyse, Senior Advisor Organic Laboratory, Rijkswaterstaat Central Information Services, forwarded on behalf of The Netherlands Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment to RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe the “Report concerning investigation case J3352. Oil pollution of the coast of Bonaire, Aruba, Curacao and Venezuela.” The report indicated:

  • The gas chromatograms show that all samples contain mineral oil.

  • The gas chromatograms of all the samples have the characteristics of gas chromatograms of HFO.

  • The gas chromatograms of all the samples show mutual a positive match.

  • Differences in the chromatographic patterns and diagnostic ratios of samples submitted for comparison are lower than the variability of the method or can be explained unequivocally, for example by weathering; and

  • The samples are considered to match to a high degree of scientific certainty.

The analysis report further stated:

In the time span from 13 May 2017 to 15 June 2017 oil pollution of the coasts of Bonaire, Aruba, Curacao and Venezuela was noticed. Results of the investigation show that the pollution consists of mineral oil. The pollution can be further identified as HFO. All the analysed samples from Bonaire, Aruba, Curacao and Venezuela show a positive match with the analysed sample from Tank 70 of Petrotrin at Pointe-a-Pierre, Trinidad…..Weathering of the samples from Bonaire, Aruba, Curacao and Venezuela has caused some compositional changes of the oil. All compositional changes of the oil that have been noticed could be unequivocally explained by weathering processes.

Astonishingly, the results of the oil sample fingerprinting analysis conducted by the Rijkswaterstaat laboratory in The Netherlands indicated a positive match between all samples analyzed. This means that all samples taken from the oil that washed up on Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao and Venezuela, had the same chemical composition and characteristics to be a positive match with the samples collected from ruptured Tank # 70 at the Petrotrin Refinery in Pointe-a-Pierre, Trinidad. The trajectory analysis conducted by NOAA, however, indicated that it was not feasible that a 300 bbl spill would spread from Trinidad to Aruba. The straight-line distance from Pointe-a-Pierre, Trinidad to Aruba is over 600 nautical miles, roughly the distance from Houston, Texas, to Panama City, Florida. Since the state-owned company that ran the Petrotrin Refinery for 101 years went out of business shortly after this spill, it may never be officially determined just how much oil spilt form the potential 150,000 bls of oil that was initially in Tank #70. However, given the tremendous distance that the oil transited below the surface from Trinidad to the beaches of Aruba, the negative results of the NOAA 300 bbl trajectory analysis, the unofficial reports of wide oil impacts throughout Venezuela coasts, as well as reports that the ruptured Tank#70 had less than 20,000 bbls remaining after the spill, it is likely that this spill was far greater than reported by Petrotrin. Is it possible that the entire contents of Tank#70 were discharged, and the spill was not merely 300 bbls but rather to 143,000 bbls (6 million gallons)?

In the last 25 years, RAC-REMPEITC-Caribe has conducted hundreds of capacity building activities that reached thousands of maritime authority representatives across the 27 nations and territories of the Wider Caribbean Region. Between 2005 and 2008 alone, over 274 activities were conducted. In the week following the initial spill report from Trinidad, representatives from RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe were conducting a Sub-regional Level III Workshop on the Oil Pollution Response Convention (OPRC) and IMO's Guidance on the Implementation of an Incident Management System (IMS) in Nassau, The Bahamas from May 20–25, 2017. This five-day workshop emphasized the importance of regional cooperation on oil spill preparedness and response, and the implementation of incident management systems as included in IMO's 2012 Guidance on the Implementation of an Incident Management System (IMS). The workshop participants represented the governments of: The Bahamas, Belize, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and The Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. Ironically, the workshop and table-top exercises conducted in it, focused specifically on the hypothetical spill trajectory and potential coordination needed if there were a continuous release of oil from a an offshore facility in the Suriname, Guyana area (just south east of Trinidad and Tobago). Based on simulated NOAA trajectories compiled specifically for this workshop, in just thirteen days such a continuous release of oil would likely transit beyond Trinidad and Tobago to the Lower Antilles Islands. This scenario, as well as the actual spill that occurred from the Petrotrin's Tank#70, clearly emphasizes the need for continued greater coordination, collaboration and development of response capabilities among the governments and companies operating in the Wider Caribbean Region.

Why were Tier III responses not initiated by the countries involved by this spill? And why was the Dutch Navy called in to help in Bonaire, while volunteers were solicited in Curacao? Why, also, were the authorities running the response in Trinidad and Venezuela not proactive in working with other authorities within their governments and the surrounding countries? To answer these questions, it is important to emphasize first that the Wider Caribbean holds 23 of the world's 52 Small Island Developing States (SIDS) as recognized by the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked

Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLD). These countries share specific social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities, and they often have some of the most economically challenged governments in the world. The Netherlands Antilles (Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire) and Trinidad and Tobago are Wider Caribbean SIDS in the broader definition. Import too, is the role of State-owned oil companies such as Petrotrin who may not always have the same liability, insurance structures, and incentives as purely commercial run entities.

Following the Trinidad spill, RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe also held another workshop in Cartagena, Colombia on October 2–5, 2017 to further discuss the need for regional offshore oil spill preparedness and coordination. This IMO Sub-Regional Workshop on Oil Spill Response Equipment, Simulation Exercises and Co-ordination with Neighbouring Countries, was attended by thirty-nine government maritime representatives from: The Bahamas, Barbados, Colombia, Cuba, Curacao, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. The participant countries were purposely chosen as they each have some interests in offshore oil and gas resources in the Wider Caribbean Region. The output of this workshop:

  • 1) Provided support information on the assessment, identification and acquisition of oil spill response equipment for consideration by participant countries when determining what, if any, spill response capability should be acquired;

  • 2) Provided information to assist Wider Caribbean Region countries in developing and implementing national and regional exercise programs;

  • 3) Generated national and regional information and lessons learned that can be incorporated into future revisions of the Wider Caribbean Island OPRC Plan and Central; and

  • 4) Emphasized the importance of regional coordination and communication for oil spill preparedness and response.

The exercises, panels and various discussions conducted within the workshop highlighted that in the case of large regional spills, Wider Caribbean Region countries are intimately connected, but perhaps unprepared. The discussions also highlighted that additional regional communication and coordination exercises are needed. Currently, it is not clearly known which Wider Caribbean governments have, or have access to, different stockpiles of spill response equipment and resources; and which countries have Memorandums of Understanding in place with commercial entities or neighboring States. Potentially, many countries could be affected by a major spill in the region, and most countries do not have sufficient Tier 1 or Tier 2 resources to deal with such scenarios on their own.

To address the many shortfalls identified by the 2017 Trinidad Spill and the many workshops conducted, RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe made the following recommendations at the Ninth Ordinary Meeting of the Steering Committee, held in Curacao from June 5–7, 2018:

  1. Conduct oil spill response risk assessments throughout the Wider Caribbean Region;

  2. Assess regional equipment stockpiles and availability in each State;

  3. Assess ability of the Governments to attain OPRC Tier 1 capabilities for most probable spills, either nationally or with bi-lateral, multi-lateral and/or any existing regional agreements;

  4. Add detailed national information and offshore planning to the regional plans;

  5. Add detailed lists of all equipment stockpiles and response contact information to the Caribbean Island OPRC Plan;

  6. Better connect the Central American OPRC and Caribbean Island OPRC Regional Plans;

  7. Translate regional and national oil spill contingency plans into the primary working languages of the region (English, Spanish and French);

  8. Link the regional Plans under a common framework and easily accessible online network;

  9. Explore how CARICOM, CDEMA or other regional groups may be used to facilitate the legal framework to connect the plans;

  10. Support Wider Caribbean Region States in:

    • Setting up multi-lateral and bilateral agreements to improve oil spill preparedness and response efforts before, during and after spills;

    • Development of sub-regional Joint Communication Plans;

    • Writing implementing, compensation & liability legislature.

  11. Facilitate regional exercises on a regular basis, at least one Regional Tier 3 Table Top Exercise every 2 years to establish communication, identify resources and resource gaps, facilitate cross-border dispersant policies, increased understanding of offshore oil operations;

  12. Focus training efforts on Incident Management, OPRC, financial mechanisms, claims, compensation, civil liability, legislation development, spill monitoring, National Level & use of online software for spill trajectories;

  13. Form a Regional Emergency Response Advisory Team to include regional assistance agreements and contacts for a technical assistance; and

  14. Fully established RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe as a Regional Spill Reporting, Notification and Coordination Centre by developing a regional online information platform.

Robert H.,
“The Surface Circulation of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico as Inferred from Satellite Altimetry”
Marine Science Faculty Publications
Paper 154.
“101 years laid to rest”
Trinidad and Tobago Newsday
Keith M,
RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe Activity Report,
“IMO Regional Workshop on Oil Spill Contingency Planning, 13–16 December 2016 Nassau, Bahamas;”
Keith M;
RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe Activity Report:
“Sub-Regional Level 2 IMO Training Course on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation, conducted 14–18 November 2016 Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe;”
Keith M;
RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe Activity Report,
“IMO Sub -Regional International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation (OPRC) Convention Workshop on Oil Spill Response Equipment, Simulation Exercises and Co-ordination with Neighbouring Countries Held in Cartagena, Colombia, October 2-5, 2017;”
Keith M;
RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe Activity Report,
“Sub-regional Level III Workshop on the Oil Pollution Response Convention (OPRC) and IMO's Guidance on the Implementation of an Incident Management System (IMS); Nassau, The Bahamas; May 20-25, 2017;”
Keith M,
Document of the: “Ninth Ordinary Meeting of the RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe Steering Committee held in Willemstad, Curacao from Tuesday, 5th to Thursday, 7th, June 2018;”
Keith M,
“Summary of Activities and Achievements from July 2016 to May 2018, Submitted by RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe; 30 May 2018;”
“Report The Effects of the Oil Spill in Trinidad and Tobago on Bonaire;”
Ministry of infrastructure and the Environment;
“Report concerning investigation case J3352. Oil pollution of the coast of Bonaire, Aruba, Curacao and Venezuela.”
21 July 2017; Rijkswaterstaat Seaand Delta Jan Kool, p.o.Box 556 3000AN RotterdamNetherlands; Rïjkswaterstaat Central, Zuiderwagenplein 2 NL-8224AD, Lelystad p.o. box 556, NL-3000AN Rotterdam, http://www.rijkswaterstaat.nI ; Contact Kees Kooistra Advisor Laboratory
“French Organization for Oil Spill Prevention and Response;”
Power Point Presentation; Sub-Regional Level 2 IMO Training Course on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation, Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, 14–18 November 2016