Mysterious Capsized Cargo Ship Causes Oil Spill Emergency in Tobago

Tobago oil spill
Oil is leaking from the capsized vessel as the authorities work to identify the ship and its owners (TEMA)

Published Feb 9, 2024 12:04 PM by The Maritime Executive


Officials on the Caribbean island of Tobago are scrambling to clean up a growing oil spill while they also investigate the mysterious capsized vessel that is causing the growing environmental disaster. Oil is fouling the southwestern end of the island with warnings that it may continue to spread.

A massive clean-up effort has been launched as the oil continues to wash onshore with the Trinidad & Tobago Coast Guard investigating the vessel. The government is now classifying it as a Tier II disaster with the Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), Environmental Management Authority, and other government agencies all coordinating in the effort. Speculation was that it would be elevated to a Tier III disaster by the end of the day Thursday or early on Friday.

The incident began on Wednesday, February 7, when the authorities received reports of a capsized vessel. They noted that there had been no distress call and a subsequent search has failed to turn up the crew either on board or having escaped from the sinking ship. Oil from the vessel quickly began to reach the shoreline.


Oil is continuing to leak from the capsized cargo ship (TEMA)


Divers were sent to examine and identify the vessel reporting back a visual identity as Gulfstream but so far they have been unable to identify any registration information. Efforts to get to a possible registration number on the stern were being blocked by the ongoing oil leak. The vessel's visible name does not correspond with international ship registries.

They are estimating the vessel’s length at 330 feet (100 meters) and they believe it was transporting lumber and sand. The divers reported that there appears to also be damage to the nearby reef and that portions of the vessel’s superstructure detached and may lie in a debris field. 

They found no signs of life aboard the vessel, although further searches of the debris were planned. The speculation is that the vessel might have been abandoned and left to sink. The trail of damage suggests the ship drifted into the cove from the south and may have dragged along the bottom before coming to rest. Some observers are saying they saw the vessel as early as Tuesday.

Crews worked through the day on Thursday and late into the night reporting that their focus is on containment and they have deployed protective booms. The port in Scarborough they are reporting so far remains oil free while testing is ongoing to confirm their suspicions that diesel oil is leaking from the ship.

Along the beaches, 67 people are reported to be working to clean up the oil while government officials are warning the public to stay away from southwest Tobago. One of the big concerns is that the oil will contaminate fish and the food supply.