Cocaine washes up near Tobago oil-wreck

The abandoned barge soon after it was found (Office of the Chief Secretary)
The abandoned barge soon after it was found (Office of the Chief Secretary)

A bag containing more than 1kg of cocaine, with an estimated street value of around £400,000, has washed up onto a Tobago beach near the Gulfstream barge wreck, from which oil started spilling into the Caribbean Sea on 7 February.

Police at the popular island dive-destination reported that the shrink-wrapped drugs had been discovered on 18 February in the course of clean-up efforts in the Canoe Bay area on the south-west coast. 

No official connection was made between the cocaine and the barge wreck, but it was suggested that the high levels of official activity along Tobago’s coast as clean-up operations continued could be making it difficult for drug-runners to make scheduled collections of smuggled narcotics packages.

Trinidad & Tobago lies along one of the world‘s major “cocaine corridors”, between the Andean regions of South America where most of the drug is produced, and markets in the USA and Europe.

The wreck as the oil barrier was being erected. Cocaine has now been found on a nearby beach (Office of the Chief Secretary)
The wreck as the oil barrier was being erected (Office of the Chief Secretary)

The Gulfstream barge overturned and was dragged close to shore by tides on 7 February, though no emergency calls had been picked up before it sank, and there were no signs of life in the vicinity. 

The subsequent oil-spill has affected some 15km of Tobago’s southern coastline between Canoe Bay and the capital Scarborough to the east. A national emergency was declared on 11 February and the clean-up has involved large numbers of volunteers. 

A barrier was erected around the wreck in an effort to contain what was described as an “oil-like substance”, thought to be a fuel oil or marine diesel. However, trying to pinpoint and plug the leak without knowing how much fuel the barge contained was said to have proved challenging. 

Barrier around the barge wreck (TEMA)
Barrier around the barge wreck (TEMA)

The threat level has however remained at Tier 2, which does not require international assistance to be sought.

Dive-sites unaffected

Tobago’s well-known dive-sites to the west and north-east are reported to have remained unaffected by the spill. “Thankfully, none of the popular beaches to the west such as Store Bay or Pigeon Point have been affected and the Buccoo Marine Park has been spared,” commented Philip Robinson, head of the Tobago Tourism Agency. “Also unaffected are the major dive-sites around the island.” 

These sites are mainly around Speyside in the north-east, while popular wreck the Maverick and other dive-sites lie further round to the west, north of Buccoo. 

However part of the slick has been reported to have entered the waters of another important Caribbean dive-destination, Grenada, some 140km to the north-west.

Satellite imagery has shown that the oil initially moved south and south-west of Tobago towards South America before shifting in Grenada’s direction.

Clean-up operations on Tobago’s south coast (TEMA)
Clean-up operations on Tobago’s south coast, much of which is now reported by the government to have been cleared of oil (TEMA)

Tobago and Grenada’s emergency management agencies have been in contact to monitor the situation, with the Trinidad & Tobago Air Guard monitoring the slick’s progress from the air.

There have been no reports of oil reaching Grenada’s shores, its National Disaster Management Agency reported on 18 February, but it said that it was remaining vigilant because its progress depended on weather and sea conditions. 

The barge, identified from submerged markings as Gulfstream by scuba divers working to plug the leak, is thought to have been under tow by a tugboat that has since disappeared. 

Tobago’s Ministry of National Security has said that a suspected vessel, identified (though unconfirmed) as the 11m Tanzania-registered Solo Creed, had left Aruba on 4 February, drawing a barge and thought to be heading east to Guyana, which would take it past Tobago. Also unconfirmed is that the barge was carrying 5,000 tonnes of fuel.

Also on Divernet: Hunt for phone signal led to Mauritius oil-spill, Puerto Galera’s dive-sites given all-clear, Slow response as Solomons oil-slick spreads, Divers confirm Galapagos diesel spill stemmed, Coke-smuggling probe: a tale of 3 divers

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