Cabo Star about-turn: THA claims ‘victory’ in bitumen transport dispute

The content originally appeared on: News Americas Now

Black Immigrant Daily News

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The Cabo Star –

SECRETARY of Infrastructure, Quarries and Urban Development Trevor James has described as “a victory for the THA,” the decision by the Port Authority of T&T and the Trinidad and Tobago Inter-Island Transportation Company, to allow the MV Cabo Star cargo vessel to continue transporting bitumen to Tobago.

On Wednesday, the division issued a press release stating that the bulk shipment of hydrocarbon bitumen used in road works “was now constructed as a breach of the new SOLAS certification on the MV Cabo Star.”

It added, “The certification for the vessel was recently reviewed and upgraded without consultation or communication with the Tobago Hose of Assembly and business on the island.”

The release further said James learnt of the development via a communique from acting Port Authority CEO Vilma Lewis-Cockburn.

The communique, according to the release, said the Cabo Star, which was engaged by the government to transport all cargo between Trinidad and Tobago, was now limiting the shipment of hydrocarbons to 450 litres at a time.

It also said James became aware of the situation when he received a call from a contractor last week Thursday, regarding being denied to ship a large quantity of bitumen to Tobago, of which he was previously permitted.

Alluding to the recent restriction of export aggregate from Tobago, the release quoted James as saying that he believed this development was “another issue in a series of actions that seems to be going in a particular direction.

“What we have is a government who engaged the MV Cabo Star in 2017, and the MV Cabo Star was engaged to move cargo – all cargo– between the islands. This new certification prevents us, prevents anyone from bringing bitumen. We are going to need bitumen to build and to repair the infrastructure consequent to the rains, just as they’re doing in Trinidad.

“You heard the minister (Rohan Sinanan) say that they’re going to take all the TLA (Trinidad Lake Asphalt) from Lake Asphalt to do their repairs. They’ve reached out to us to buy material from SPEL (Studley Park Enterprise Ltd); in the same time, in the same week, the company that runs the inter-island transport, who reports to a minister, is informing us that essentially we, in Tobago, will not be able to bring or they will not be able to ship bitumen to Tobago on the vessel (in bulk).”

On Friday, Sinanan held a news conference at which the decision to prevent the Cabo Star from transporting large quantities of bitumen was rescinded.

James, in a video release on Friday, said, “From the division, from the THA, we see this as a victory for the THA. We were alerted of this issue arising. It is clear from the media release and from the press conference today that the Port Authority along with the Trinidad and Tobago Inter-island Transportation Company, that it was my report then that alerted them of the fact that a key stakeholder in Tobago, road construction, was being prevented from shipping bitumen to Tobago.”

Were it not for the THA’s public intervention, James said, the issue would not have been resolved.

Secretary of Infrastructure, Quarries and Urban Development Trevor James –

“The Port Authority, the TTIT company would not have responded as expeditiously as they have done to revert to what we think the Cabo Star managers know, the public of Trinidad and Tobago know and certainly, the company knows.”

He added, “The issue arose because, according to the press release and the information that some entity did a risk assessment of the Cabo Star to determine if it met SOLAS certification standards.

“Out of that risk assessment, I got an e-mail from Ms Cockburn that the MV Cabo Star supposedly took an independent decision to reduce the quantity of dangerous goods being transported on the vessel, down from 20,000kg to 450 litres.”

Saying he found the decision “passing strange,” James said, “This is a vessel that has been contracted to the government of Trinidad and Tobago since 2017, that has been transporting bitumen since that time and for a risk assessment to now determine that this was in error and for it to be reverted to two or three days later, to me there is something wrong in that whole conversation.”

He continued, “But as a government in Tobago, we are happy that the Port Authority have responded positively.”

However, James said the THA was still very concerned about the ramp on the vessel.

“Every period of increased activity. Now we are moving into Carnival, the ramp is going to break down, when it’s Easter, the ramp breaks down – something happens.

“Don’t want to say it’s a conspiracy but certainly it continues to show a lack of competence in those who manage the Port in Trinidad and compounded with the fact that the THA is not treated as the stakeholder that it ought to be treated as.”

At an executive council town meeting at the Parlatuvier Multipurpose Facility on Tuesday, Chief Secretary Farley Augustine broke the news about the bitumen transport problem

Augustine continued, “For all these years, long before I born, probably since the Gelting and Bird of Paradise, since them slow steamer boat coming, is on those boats bitumen used to be transported to Tobago. But in 2023, we are informed that effective immediately we can no longer bring bitumen on the boat to Tobago.”

Augustine, noting that Tobago does not produce its own bitumen, said the THA would have had to consider hiring a barge to transport the material.