The Trinidad and Tobago government says it is seeking international assistance in dealing with an oil spill that is threatening several areas in the southern part of the country even as the Oilfield Workers' Trade Union (OWTU) said the state-owned company, PETROTRIN, should shoulder the blame for the environmental disaster.
"I'm told that there is equipment in the US that can do this a lot quicker. How quickly we can get that here, I don't know," said Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine.
Ramnarine said that his "initial impression is the situation is very serious.
"What we are being told ... is that about three to four miles of the beach of the shoreline, is affected in this area. There is expertise outside of Trinidad and Tobago, for which we subscribe. PETROTRIN pays an annual retainer fee to a company in Florida called Clean Caribbean, and they have cutting- edge equipment, so I think given the seriousness of the situation, we may have to look at that option - look at triggering that option right now," Ramnarine said.
But he acknowledged that the clean-up exercise could last weeks and that the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP) would be made available to PETROTRIN.
The energy minister said the company had already removed 700 barrels of oil from the La Brea Beach.
"I've also been told by the exploration and production vice-president and his team that they have seen no commensurate decline in production at Trinmar, so the mystery, of course, remains: Where is this oil coming from?"
Ramnarine said the source of the spill at La Brea remained a mystery, as well as the oil spills at two other locations, including the Rancho Quemado.
"Rancho Quemado is pretty far from here, so at this time it is the biggest mystery - where this has come from. I'm told there is no active pipeline around here, so we continue to investigate as to what is the source, but we have to find out what the source is," he said.
But the powerful OWTU has claimed that the fields were not well secured.
"We do not concur with the company's offering of the excuse that it is some kind of sabotage or otherwise," said OWTU president general, Ancel Roget.
"We want to say there is a massive cover-up of the PETROTRIN management to shield their friends, the lease operators," he told a news conference.
Roget has accused the company of knowingly reducing the level of security in the fields, allowing thieves to roam freely.
It was the fifth oil spill in South Trinidad since last week Tuesday.