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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Bahamian government set to sue The British Petroleum (BP) as the gulf coast oil spill fears grow in The Bahamas

Bahamian government set to sue as oil fears grow
Tribune Staff Reporter

AS the likelihood of the Bahamas being affected by the gulf coast oil spill increases, the government may seek to recover costs from BP, the operators of the exploded Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

It is feared that ocean currents could carry the spilled oil into Bahamian waters and devastate wildlife habitats in the north-western islands.

"Any money that is spent in (a possible) clean-up the government would be looking to be reimbursed, and the entire exercise being paid for by BP," said Commander Patrick McNeil, head of the National Oil Spill Contingency Team.

While he said the committee had not specifically discussed a recommendation for the government to sue BP, he said the government would look to recover the financial cost for any resources marshalled to address the spill.

"It is an American problem. They have a responsibility to address the problem as best as they can to ensure it doesn't affect other sovereign states. We are expecting them to do all they can to ensure it doesn't reach the Bahamas," said Commander McNeil.

At this time, the Contingency Team is not in contact with any US emergency response agencies involved in the containment effort, according to Commander McNeil; however, he said Brooke Moppert, economic officer at the United States Embassy in Nassau, attended a meeting and indicated the US government is doing all it can to contain the spill and clean it up.

Some scientists predict deep water currents will send oil along the western Florida coast to meet up with the Gulf Stream. These currents run between the eastern seaboard of the US and the western side of the Bahamas. The Cay Sal Bank, the Bimini chain, the western side of Andros and West End, Grand Bahama are the primary areas at risk.

"The greatest feared risk is that the oil spill will enter the western Bahamas and cause devastation to wetlands, bird sanctuaries, turtle habitats, and cause a deterioration in our marine life and bird species. That is our greatest fear. We will try to put in place steps to minimise the impact," said Commander McNeil.

Sam Duncombe, director of the local environmental advocacy agency reEarth, said the government should "get on it" and look to BP for compensation for any damage caused to beaches, local fisheries, or the marine environment.

Environment Minister Earl Deveaux and Attorney General John Delaney could not be reached. They were in a Cabinet meeting yesterday.

The National Oil Spill Contingency Team is not "depending solely" on the American response. It is making preparations for an emergency, although Commander McNeil said the committee is not in emergency mode.

The team brings together various emergency response agencies and industry experts. They met yesterday to identify a team of scientists that will be sent to collect marine samples in the Northwestern Bahamas.

Samples will be tested to establish base data in the continuing effort to determine the impact of the April 20 gulf oil spill on the Bahamas. The team of scientists will determine the testing frequency after the initial tests are conducted.

A lead scientist is yet to be identified, although Commander McNeil said the person is likely to come from the Department of Environmental Health. Scientists will also come from the Department of Marine Resources and the Bahamas National Trust. The Royal Bahamas Police Force is expected to "provide a platform for them to carry out testing."

May 19, 2010