80 Million Gallons of Oil, Larger Than Exxon Spill, Dangerously Close to Pouring into Caribbean

The U.S. embassy in Trinidad and Tobago has urged "immediate actions" to prevent a potentially catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Paria, off the coast of Venezuela, where a floating storage and offloading facility is reportedly undergoing repairs.

The Venezuelan-flagged Nabarima vessel has been sat idle off the Venezuelan coast since January 2019. Pictures recently emerged showing the FSO vessel floating at an incline, raising fears that it could spill its load into the gulf devastating the regional fishing industry and delicate ecosystems.

The Nabarima is operated by the Petrosucre company, a joint venture between the Venezuelan state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and the Italian Eni oil giant.

Petrosucre froze oil extraction in January 2019 after being sanctioned by President Donald Trump's administration, leaving 1.3 million barrels of crude oil, some 80 million gallons, aboard the Nabarima.

The infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill—widely considered the worst in history by the amount of environmental damage done—involved around 10.8 million gallons of crude.

The U.S. embassy in Trinidad and Tobago released a statement Friday expressing its unease at the Nabarima's situation. "The United States remains concerned by the potential risk to safety and environment posed by the Venezuelan-flagged vessel, Nabarima, in the Gulf of Paria," the statement said.

"We strongly support immediate actions to bring the Nabarima up to international safety standards and avoid possible environmental harm, which could negatively impact not only the Venezuelan people but also those in nearby countries. PDVSA has a responsibility to take action to avoid an environmental disaster in Venezuelan waters."

Recent photos of the Nabarima show it listing to one side in the water. An unnamed source "familiar with the matter" told Reuters the ship was leaning to allow the crew to replace its valves.

Eni said Friday that the company was now trying to unload the crude oil aboard and had asked the U.S. for a "green light" to do so "in order to prevent any sanctions risk."

Gary Aboud, the corporate secretary of Trinidadian environmental group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea, told Reuters: "If this thing flips we will all pay the consequences for decades to come. This should be red alert."

The U.S. has imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan government, leftist President Nicolas Maduro and the PDVSA, framing them as illegitimate and demanding the government release political prisoners and allow free and fair elections.

The Trump administration has also recognized former National Assembly majority leader and self-declared Interim President Juan Guaido as the country's legitimate leader, but has failed to unseat Maduro and usher Guaido into power.

The U.S. embassy in Trinidad and Tobago said Friday that its call to action regarding the Nabarima is in keeping with its pressure on the Maduro government. "As a general matter, the United States' Venezuela sanctions program is not designed to target activities addressing safety, environmental, or humanitarian concerns," the embassy said.

"These activities to avert an ecological disaster are consistent with U.S. policy to support the Venezuelan people and avoid further harm to the environment."

PDVSA, Venezuela, oil, spill, Nabarima, sanctions
This file photo shows the Venezuelan PDVSA oil tanker Rio Arauca, abandoned by her crew at anchor on April 28, 2019 in Lisbon, Portugal. Horacio Villalobos /Corbis via Getty Images/Getty