Mysterious Tug That Caused Tobago Oil Spill May Have Been Found in Angola

capsized barge
Trinidad and Tobago has been seeking details on the tug towing the barge for more than three months (TEMA)

Published May 24, 2024 1:49 PM by The Maritime Executive


After three months of searching, government officials in Trinidad and Tobago may have finally located the mysterious tug thought to have caused the disastrous oil spill off the coast of Tobago in February. International sources and independent researchers have all been working to confirm the identity of the tug and to locate it after it went dark at the beginning of February.

“The government has received information that the tug Solo Creed may have been detained by the authorities in Angola,” the Trinidad and Tobago Energy Ministry announced in a statement yesterday. They reported that an official inquiry had been submitted to Angola through diplomatic channels.

The incident began on February 7 with reports that a capsized vessel had washed ashore and was leaking oil. Initially, it was thought to be a small cargo ship but later investigations confirmed that it was an oil barge named Gulfstream. The open-source intelligence experts at Bellingcat identified the overturned vessel as a formerly American-owned ATB barge and then tracked its movements suggesting it was being towed by a tug alternately known as Solo Creed or Ranger. TankerTrackers.com using satellite imagery and other data also tracked the tug and barge.

The vessels were thought to be coming from Panama and according to some reports were bound for Guyana. Some suppositions were that it was carrying Venezuelan oil and that the tug got into some form of trouble and cut the barge loose. The last signal from the tug was February 5 and some people told local media that they thought they saw the barge drifting offshore before the grounding. 

“The government is committed to continuing its pursuit of those responsible for this oil spill,” they said in their latest update.

Ownership of the tug and barge has also been debated. A media report in The Guardian newspaper in Trinidad suggested the tug and barge had been purchased by a Nigerian businessman Abraham Olalekan. The tug is reported to have been built in 1976 in the United States and is 128 feet (39 meters) with 538 gross tons. Most databases reflect it as the Ranger registered in Tanzania but in most cases, the data is reported as old or the owners as unknown.

The government retained international salvage teams to stop the oil leaking from the barge and assist with the shoreline cleanup. Some reports suggest the spill reached as far north as Grenada and west to Bonaire. Recent statements suggested there could be as many as 2,000 barrels left aboard the barge. The barge has 12 fuel tanks with reports saying it could have been loaded with as much as 35,000 barrels.

Government officials recently reported that they have lowered their initial claim to $23 million but noted that the clean-up and salvage continue. They had previously filed a $30 million preliminary claim with the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund and are reported to be negotiating a settlement.