Friday, June 11 – The Department of Disaster Management (DDM) is closely monitoring efforts to contain the thousands of barrels of oil, as well as gas, spewing into the gulf of Mexico for nearly two months although there is a low probability that the Virgin Islands is under any threat.
The Regional Activity Center/Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Information and Training Center (REMPEITC), in consultation with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have advised of the low probability that this spill will affect the Caribbean. However, as its trajectory nears the loop current, it has the potential to affect Florida, the northern coast of Cuba and the Bahamas. Should any oil reach the waters of the Caribbean Islands, it is expected to be weathered with the volatile or harmful effects having been evaporated.
REMPEITC has advised that the greatest current impact for the Caribbean is anticipated to be tar balls reaching the beaches. In a report issued by Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) Coordinating Unit to member countries this week, reported they are unable to identify any international convention or funds which will cover compensation for the current emission of oil from a deepwater well for an affected Caribbean state.
DDM Director Ms. Sharleen DaBreo said, “The Virgin Islands Government signed a memorandum of understanding with the United States Government on 12 August, 2004 that provides for assistance in the event of a major discharge of oil or other hazardous substances in the territorial sea or internal waters of the BVI or seaward.”
She added that DDM undertook an extensive revision to the National Oil Spill Response plan in 2009 and “emergency response agencies are trained at various levels to respond to localised spills. Resources are available within the Territory, though limited, to initiate an immediate response to minor oil spills that may affect our waters. We would not want to waste these critical resources on responding to smaller spills that are as a result of improper disposal.”
The Director further explained, “The DDM and other government agencies are members of the Caribbean Regional Response Team (CRRT). This team is responsible for preparedness activities including planning, training, and exercising to ensure an effective response to releases of hazardous substances and oil spills. During an oil spill, the team provides assistance as requested by the On-Scene Coordinator.” A meeting of the CRRT was recently held in St. Thomas, USVI from 17-21 May.
The collapse of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana on April 20 which also killed 11 workers, is of great concern to the Caribbean as oil, a poisonous substance, can eventually kill marine life when ingested and can also cause major damage to marine habitats.
It is estimated that approximately 12,000-19,000 barrels of oil is being discharged per day with a worst case scenario of 60,000 barrels per day. Efforts to cap the spill on June 3, 2010 were partially successful and resulted in only slowing the emission rate.
DDM is reminding the public that any oil which reaches a body of water generally creates a sheeting effect on the surface, cutting off the oxygen supply to fish and other marine organisms. DDM is urging the public to ensure proper disposal of waste oil. The Department will continue to monitor this situation in the Gulf and will inform the public of any changes in the level of risk that this spill might pose to the Virgin Islands.