Dutch investigation reveals culprits involved in Tobago oil spill

A collaborative investigation conducted by Bellingcat and the Trinidad & Tobago Guardian has pinpointed the responsible entities behind a significant oil spill in the Caribbean. Melaj Offshore, a Panama-registered company, has been implicated in the incident, which is considered one of the worst oil spills in recent Caribbean history.

Oil spill

According to findings from Bellingcat, an investigative journalism group based in the Netherlands, and ship registration documents obtained from the Zanzibar Maritime Authority, the tug Solo Creed, a 1976-built vessel registered in Tanzania, accompanied the Gulfstream barge during its ill-fated journey. The listed owner of the tug, Melissa Rona Gonzalez, was identified as an official of Melaj Offshore Corporation.

Verification from the authority confirmed the tug’s registration from December 30, 2023, the start of its journey, until it abandoned the Gulfstream barge around February 6, with the registration period expiring on February 29. The Panamanian corporate registry revealed that Gonzalez, an officer of Melaj Offshore, held the power of attorney for the company, with her husband, Augustine Jackson, identified as its legal representative.

Oil spill on the Atlantic side of the island threatens tourism

Both the tug and barge had a history of towing Venezuelan oil. The barge, carrying 35,000 barrels of oil on a voyage intended for Guyana, encountered difficulties along the way. Ultimately, the 48-year-old barge capsized off the coast of Tobago, resulting in a substantial oil slick that spread westward, reaching the east coast of Bonaire, Aruba, and Grenada. Curaçao remains on high alert.

Cleanup efforts are underway in Bonaire, with acting governor Nolly Oleana providing updates. While oil has periodically washed up on the island’s eastern coastlines, the heavily trafficked tourist areas on the western side have not been affected. Oleana emphasized the possibility of additional spills into inlets on the island.

Island officials are collaborating with the government of Trinidad and Tobago to address compensation for the spill. Oleana stated that discussions are ongoing, with legal experts from the Netherlands engaging with counterparts from Trinidad and Tobago to ascertain ownership of the ship and the oil product on board.