Bleak Christmas in La Brea

By Richardson Dhalai

ON December 17 last year, a leak along a Petrotrin sea line dumped several thousand gallons of Bunker C fuel oil into the Gulf of Paria.

One day later, a massive oil slick was discovered coating a number of beaches along the south western peninsula including Otaheite, La Brea and as far as Cedros and Icacos.

But it was the La Brea coastal communities of Coffee/ Carrat Shed and Point Sable beaches which bore the brunt of the oil spill with several residents having little choice but to evacuate their beachfront homes while fisherfolk were left unable to ply their trade after their vessels were coated in oil.

One year later, Coffee beach residents have described life at the seaside community as “hard” saying their Christmas celebration was virtually nonexistent with many residents still experiencing nausea after breathing the oil fumes.

One resident, Tameika Modeste, who lives a stone’s throw away from the seashore, said she was still experiencing breathing and skin problems and had been forced to move to her mother’s home which is located not too far from her own house.

‘I am having a dull Christmas because I does still feel sick and whenever I go in the sun, my skin does swell up so I have to stay cooped up in the house and not go anywhere,’ she said.

Modeste also alleged that she had not received any test results for blood tests performed by Petrotrin several months earlier.

‘They take me to their fancy labs and take blood and do some other tests and is four months now and I still waiting for the results,’ she said, adding, ‘if they find something, they should let me know but they not saying anything.’

Meanwhile, another resident, Sammy Montano, slammed the distribution of hampers by state- owned oil company, Petrotrin saying the company had ‘insulted’ them by giving ‘tiny’ hampers to residents on December 20.

‘You can’t even call it a hamper- four tins of sausage, a small pack of rice, and snacks,’ she said, adding, ‘if you have to give something, it should be something good.’

‘We still suffering here because when the tide come up, you still getting the oil scent from the mangrove because they didn’t go into the mangrove so it still have oil inside there,’ she added.

Also lending his voice was La Brea Fisherfolk Association president, Alvin La Borde, who noted that fishermen had to ply their trade further out to sea as they were uncertain about the quality of fish caught just off the La Brea coast.

“After the company stopped paying compensation to the fishermen in May, we went back out to sea and we decided that we should fish further out and close to places like Cedros because people still have this fear about eating fish caught in La Brea,’ La Borde said.

“People still skeptical about purchasing fish from us and that is a big problem because they don’t want to get sick,’ he said, and once again issued a call for the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) to release its findings about the quality of air and water in the La Brea coastline.

“We know the EMA fined Petrotrin $20 million dollars but we don’t know why they fined them and what that money is being used for,” he said, adding, ‘we haven’t heard anything about their report on the oil spill and I believe the public has a right to know.”

However La Borde also noted that Petrotrin was attempting to “keep up its corporate and social responsibility’ by assisting in the construction of a boat repair building.

Meanwhile, another fisherman, Gopaul Balkissoon said he had left Coffee Beach and had relocated to Cedros following the oil spill.

‘It is impossible to catch fish in La Brea again because it still have oil coming ashore during high tides and when it is a full moon, you still seeing small patches of oil like little coins floating in the water so I move my boat to Cedros,’ Balkissoon said.

Balkission said life had changed in the La Brea community following the oil spill as residents were falling sick on a regular basis while others had opted to leave the community.

“The people, the atmosphere, everything change, nothing is the same anymore,” he said.

When Newsday visited the beachfront yesterday, there were no visible signs of oil on the beaches while a number of fishing pirogues were observed tied to coconut trees along the beach.

http://www.newsday.co.tt/news/0,204777.html

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