Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Caribbean countries cannot claim compensation for any damage to their territories stemming from BP's Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill

Caribbean countries 'cannot claim oil spill compensation'
Tribune Staff Reporter

RESEARCH has indicated that Caribbean countries cannot claim compensation for any damage to their territories stemming from the Gulf oil spill under any current international or US legislation, according to the Deputy Prime Minister.

For this reason, The Bahamas has lobbied the United States Government to update its oil spill legislation - despite the fact that any benefits from the proposed changes will not likely improve Caribbean countries' chances of being compensated for the present spill but only perhaps if a similar incident occurs in the future.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Brent Symonette, in a meeting between Caribbean leaders and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Barbados last week to discuss regional security issues, raised concerns on behalf of Caricom members states about the potential impact of the Gulf oil spill in the region.

Mr Symonette said that the "out of date" legislation was the "most important" point raised by Caricom with Mrs Clinton at the meeting on the question of the growing oil spill.

"Most of the legislative issues - and we have to accept this (a spill like that in the Gulf of Mexico at present) has never happened before - most of the legislative questions are covered in international protocols with regard to discharging oil from tankers, cruise ships and so forth and also the Oil Spill Act in the U.S. which only covers oil spills in the jurisdiction of the US. So we talked about the modernisation of the laws to be able to cover spills from an oil rig," said Mr Symonette.

In a recent report on the oil spill and its implications for Caricom states, compiled by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), the agency outlines the main liability and compensation regimes under which compensation can be claimed for damage stemming from oil spills. However, it notes as a "challenge for the Caribbean" the fact that such regimes all refer to spills from tankers, shipping accidents or ocean-going shipping.

"The Regional Activity Centre/Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Information and Training Centre (REMPEITC) and CDEMA research has been unable to identify any international convention or fund that will cover compensation for the current emission of oil from a deepwater well for an affected Caribbean state," said the report.

"It should also be noted that the Oil Pollution Act 1990 of the United States of America will provide support to US states but not to countries outside the U.S.

"If necessary, affected countries may have to engage directly with British Petroleum for funding or compensation. The REMPEITC has indicated their willingness to facilitate this discussion," it adds.

The CDEMA report also reveals what have been determined to be The Bahamas' "immediate needs" arising from the potential for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its potential to impact Bahamian shores.

These include: 4,000 metres of boom to secure "sensitive key areas" from the oil and "personal protective equipment" for 800 people to clean up oil tar balls.

Such equipment should include 2,000 to 3,000 disposable jump suits, 1,000 pairs of boots, 2,000 pairs of rubber gloves, 2,000 face masks, 250 spades or shovels and 250 plastic buckets, said the report.

At present the "greatest impact" expected to be seen in The Bahamas from the oil spill is the arrival of "tar balls" on Bahamian beaches. Such tar balls are usually around a coin size in diameter and not commonly hazardous but may collect on beaches and require manual removal by trained volunteers followed by disposal in a "safe place, recycling or burning."

Volunteers are currently being sought to receive training on tar ball clean up.

June 15, 2010