Mid-Morning on Monday, June 13th the Nature Foundation responded to calls regarding a fuel spill occurring in the area of Cay Bay. Upon investigation it was confirmed that the spill originated from Sol. Foundation staff and Sol crews tried to mitigate the spill using fuel absorbent supplies, however the extent of the incident and the difficult weather conditions caused much of the pollution to be washed out to sea.
“We received a call from a concerned boat charter company to let us know a significant amount of fuel could be seen in the water as they were passing Cay Bay. We were able to respond to the call within 15 minutes, but by the time we arrived a wide slick of fuel could be found more than 1.8 Kilometers (1.1miles) away from shore. It was unclear how much product was able to enter the environment during this incident as the fuel had mixed with the water and spread while it was pushed away from the area,” stated the Nature Foundation.
In response to the incident Sol has released the following statement, “Sol Antilles N.V. (Sol) confirms that on June 13, 2022, at approximately 8:00 a.m., an incident occurred during the connection of the new white oils receiving pipeline at the Sol Cole Bay depot in Cay Bay. Due to the swift reaction of the internal response team, the operation was immediately halted, and majority of the spill was subsequently contained. As part of its overall contingency planning, Sol has an emergency response team of trained and certified staff and has oil spill equipment readily available should it be required. There was no harm to any personnel, however, a small quantity of fuel escaped out to sea. All other on-site activities were ceased immediately as a precautionary measure. The maintenance activities have since all been completed without any further issues.
“At Sol, we take pride in conducting our business with our business core values of Safety, Integrity, Community and Respect at the helm and as such, we are currently engaged with the relevant regulatory agencies and stakeholders to keep them fully abreast of the situation and of the mitigation measures put in place. These stakeholders include the Nature Foundation, The Coast Guard, the Department of Maritime Affairs and the Inspection Department of VROMI. Sol’s main focus is the protection of the health, safety and security of our employees, customers and the communities within which we operate.”
Due to the high winds and waves during the day the majority of spill that was not contained was pushed away from the island quickly, but dive schools reported remnants of fuel still at nearby dive sites as late as 5pm the same day. While the foundation was monitoring the spill, mapping the affected areas, and attempting to absorb thick patches found on the surface many animal species were spotted. An endangered Green Sea Turtle, several sea birds, and flying fish were all seen on the surface of the water in and among the pollutants.
“Sol was able to immediately halt their activities and activated their response plan. As part of this workers deployed absorbent materials to help control what was lost into the sea. However, whether it is present in St. Maarten shores or not, fuel spills like this have a distinct and long-lasting impact on the ecosystem,” explained the foundation, “Not only can it directly harm the animals that encounter it, but it also has long lasting effects on food sources and can disrupt biological growth. It also won’t just disappear; this fuel will travel with the wind and waves and could impact other Caribbean islands.”
Foundation staff continued to monitor the area throughout the week and saw no further signs of pollutants entering the water. The Nature Foundation urges that any company working with environmentally hazardous materials to have equipment and protocols in place to handle inevitable issues such as oil or fuel spills. Including contacting the foundation as soon as possible in the event of emergency in order to mitigate the impacts on our precious environment.
“With major environmental incidents involving fuel or oil happening at varying locations in 2010, 2014, 2018, 2021, and now 2022 it is clear that there is a need for a change in policy and regulation when it comes to dealing with these hazardous materials,” stated the Nature Foundation.