top of page

Tobago Oil Spill Highlighted the Vulnerability of Small Island States

Updated: Mar 16

Oil Spill on Coast of Tobago
Oil Spill off the Atlantic coast of Tobago in the Caribbean

The recent impact of the oil spill in Tobago caused by a vessel that overturned in the Atlantic Ocean side of Tobago have opened the whole question of how vulnerable we are as a small island in the Caribbean. On February 7, it was reported that an overturned barge was being pulled by the tugboat Solo Creed from Panama in Central America to Guyana in South America drifted undetected into Trinidad and Tobago water’s off a reef in Tobago according to the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of National Security This raises concerns of vulnerability in the broad framework of safety and security, environmental impact and sustainability of the livelihoods of the island.

Environmental Impacts

As small island states, it has become more apparent that we are easily impacted by these types of man-made disasters, especially when it seems as if we are helpless or clueless to the reason or reasons that have caused the incident. The oil spill has had a negative impact on the fishing industry by leaving several fisherfolk out of work for an extended period. Our environment namely the mangrove and the coastal lines have been severely impacted to the point that the breeding area for fishes, crabs and other marine and wildlife that depends upon this ecosystem have been impacted severely.

Economic Impacts

The amount of money spent to solve this issue will run the government possibly into the millions as no authority has taken responsibility for the disaster as yet. International donor agencies such as CAF has committed resources to the island’s clean-up efforts and recovery of USD250,000, while agencies are estimating that the cost of this oil spill will be significant on the Tobago’s local economy. Economists are trying to grapple with what would be a fair economic assessment of the impact of the oil spill on the island. While many persons who ply their trade based on the sea such as fisherfolk and tourism operators received food grants as a short-term and temporary relief.

Social Impacts

This oil spill disturbed the routine for many of our community areas. Imagine schools nearby the affected area were closed for more than three weeks because of this hazard as the stench and residue from the oil spill became a health concern. Many students’ lives were at risk to the harmful effects.

The beaches, which served as a source of recreation and enjoyment for visitors and locals alike were not used for several weeks as areas severely affected had to be cordoned off by the authorities.

What does the impact of this oil spill mean for the region?

I would like to suggest that a grievous crime was committed against the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago and possibly the wider Caribbean, as the hydrocarbons from this oil spill continues to seep into the ocean. Policies and measures must be put in place to ensure that the relevant agencies are held accountable. Not only was Tobago affected by the oil spill but it continues to threaten the marine habitat in nearby countries as far as Grenada all the way to Venezuela, Aruba, and Bonaire.

A larger question of protection of our marine borders must be raised along with detection. This raises a safety and security issue for us in the region. We must be more proactive and vigilant. Questions are raised as to what was the real intentions of the vessel, was it working along the lines of black market or illegal activities? Then we must look at the broader issues of how many transnational crimes were committed due to this oil-spill?

How can small vulnerable states protect their marine waters and interests in this larger transnational oil shipping industry trade complex. Is our interest truly protected in these processes and what are the assurances and insurances when incidents do happen? There must be critical mechanisms and holistic approaches to preserve the interest of this region as we do share common marine and geographic borders that are susceptible to many vulnerabilities. If as a region, we continue to boast about sand, sun, and sea then we must protect our natural resources at all costs.

To this end, as a people within the Caribbean region, we must understand the impacts of natural and manmade disasters. The region must plan effectively, support each other through troubling times and chart a way forward with our development without harming our environment and our livelihoods. To swim together in these crucial times, means a level of true leadership in the face of a real threat. The oil spill cleanup in Tobago is well on its way but we must not forget the lessons learned.


Other useful articles on Tobago Oil Spill 2024

Understanding Tobago’s disastrous oil spill by Jerniece Germaine

Oil spill spreads across Caribbean from Tobago to Bonaire by BBC News

Mystery shipwreck causes disastrous oil spill off Trinidad and Tobago by Aljazeera


final orange.png
bottom of page