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Measures taken to strengthen Oil Spill response capabilities

The Government is strengthening the country’s oil spill response capabilities by updating its National Oil Spill Contingency Plan. Stakeholders from various Ministries, Departments, Private Sector, Academia, Civil Society, and Non-Governmental Organizations associated with Disaster Risk Management and Oil Spill Response, are meeting in Belize City to participate in the three day workshop. The meeting’s objectives are to keep stakeholders and the public informed and to bring together the consultancy teams from Polaris Applied Sciences Incorporation with key national technical experts and organizations, particularly to initiate the data collection and consultation process. Hipolito Novelo reports.

Is Belize capable of effectively and efficiently responding to an oil spill? The country’s only National Oil Spill Contingency Plan is more than twenty years old and that’s because it is a draft. Stakeholders met today to discuss how to turn that draft plan in an updated and legitimate strategic response. The initiative is being spearheaded by the Department of Environment with the goal to strengthened Belize’s oil spill response capabilities. They brought in consultancy teams from Polaris Applied Sciences Inc. One of those consultants is Elliott Taylor.

Elliott Taylor, Consultant

“My role is a project leader, this project is to undertake a revision update and development of the national contingency plan for oil spills and so my job is to steer the response, to steer the project the work, the compilation of information that we are gathering together to produce an updated national contingency plan along with supporting materials like maps, equipment, recommendations for different depots, procedures, standard operating procedures that will be part of the contingency plan itself.”

Taylor says that the plan needs a lot of revision.

Elliott Taylor, Consultant

“Amongst other things it needs a clear definition of who the players are, what their roles and responsibilities are in the event of a spill, how they are going to work together, it needs to have a standard operating procedures on issues such as oil spill assessment such as where the spill is, where it’s moving to, how we would combat and control the spill itself, what areas are most sensitive, what we are going to protect as priorities, what equipment is available and how it’s going to be used; everything from a very local response all the way up to something that might be a more significant response it could even entail how do you bring in international and regional resources to help in the event of a spill situation.”

And if that spill does occur, Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage of which OCEANA Belize is a member of, has pledge its support.

Janelle Chanona, VP, OCEANA Belize

“Oceana and the other members of the Belize Coalition has from the onset maintained that we are ready to offer any type of expertise, legal, technical, experiential through our networks. We know we are constantly relying on our peer groups in Trinidad and Tobago for instance who have unfortunately have had to deal with lots of oil spill scenarios over their history. We are fully prepared to stand and offer any assistance in any regard to the Department of the Environment and the Government of Belize on a whole to be ready for live threats.”

Dr. Percival Cho, CEO, Ministry of Forestry and Environment:

“There is an oil tanker that comes in every so often, that traverses through our sea and many people don’t seem to realize this. There is a tanker that comes into the Big Creek port that receives oil from what we’re producing locally. Tankers have been risk for oil spills for years; you heard about the Exxon Valdez for example that is one area. Certainly all the safety protocols are in place for such a tanker to traverse our waters but in the unlikely event of such a leak and also in terms of ships, ships carry a lot of fuel if it so happens that there is a leak from one of these ships out at sea it certainly behooves us to be prepared. You know tankers traverse our highway on a daily basis so far we haven’t had any major spills but those represent threats that are very likely but with standard safety protocols in place hopefully we don’t have to see.”

According to the CEO in the Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Sustainable Development Dr. Percival Cho, the government will foot the bill for the contingency plan. The plan is expected to be completed by early next year. Reporting for Love News, I am Hipolito Novelo.