Oil spill off Grand Bahama

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December 04, 2012

A heavy crude oil spill coated the ocean about 12 miles off the coast of Grand Bahama yesterday morning, after a Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) container vessel reported a "slow leak", Minister of Transport and Aviation Glenys Hanna-Martin said yesterday. The MSC Eugenia was en route to Everglades, Florida. Shortly after leaving Freeport Harbour its crew noticed that a storage tank was leaking oil, Hanna-Martin said during an emergency press conference at the Port Department's downtown offices. The crew erected a boom around the starboard side of the vessel to help contain the leak.

It is unclear what caused the storage tank to rupture, Hanna-Martin noted. There were no reports of a collision. The storage tank was reportedly carrying approximately 3,000 barrels of fuel, she stated. According to Hanna-Martin, preliminary reports revealed that the vessel's crew began immediate repairs once the ship was steered into deeper waters. Around 3:30 p.m. the crew managed to transport the remaining oil from the damaged storage tank to another tank, helping to stem the flow of oil.

The Oil Spill Contingency Committee, made up of several government ministries and non-government agencies, including the Ministries of Environment, Transport and Aviation and Tourism; the port controller; the National Management Emergency Agency (NEMA) and the Bahamas Environment, Science and Technology Commission, claimed the oil spill should have no major impact on the environment and has been categorized as a Tier-1 oil spill. According to International Maritime Organization (IMO) norms, marine pollution due to oil spills are categorized as Tier-1 when they are below 700 tonnes of oil; Tier-2, between 700 to 10,000 tonnes and Tier-3, 10,000 to 100,000 tonnes.

"The harbor is not at risk, in fact cruise ships came in as this whole thing unfolded," Hanna-Martin said. "No coastal area or beach area is at risk. It is an at-sea event and it is our view that the natural ocean currents will have the effect of dispersing the oil. "It was not thought prudent to use dispersal chemicals because our experts are of the view that this would have caused the oil to sink to the ocean floor and potentially cause marine damage." Hanna-Martin and representatives from the Ministry of the Environment and the BEST Commission, assisted by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, conducted a flyover of the area around 10 a.m. to view first hand the extent of the leak.

Port Controller Commander Patrick McNeil, who leads the committee, said the leaked crude oil was likely stored for the purpose of servicing fixtures and fittings on board. Director of Sustainable Tourism Earlston McPhee noted that there is no further threat of an additional spill. Anthony Ryan, a public analyst in the Department of Environmental Health Services, which is responsible for coordinating cleanups, said the oil spill was moving away from all land masses.

"Mother nature will address this spill," he said. "The final phase is a monitoring component." He said the reefs and marine life in the surrounding area will continue to be assessed. A full investigation has been launched to determine the cause of the oil spill and whether all contingency steps were taken by the Eugenia's captain and crew, which is expected to be completed within 72 hours. "It's a situation that appears to be resolving itself," Hanna-Martin added.

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News date : 12/04/2012    Category : Environment, Nassau Guardian Stories

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