An immobile Venezuelan oil tanker just off the Gulf of Paria is now in danger of capsizing, leading to growing concerns over it spilling out its more than 80 million gallons of oil on board.
New photos of the massive vessel, which has been stuck at sea for nearly two years, shows it tilting heavily on its side. A spill of such magnitude could result in the devastation of one of the world's richest areas of biodiversity.
The vessel, called the Nabarima, was initially carrying 1.3 million barrels of crude oil before it got stuck at sea. The amount of oil onboard is nearly five times that of the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez in 1989. The vessel is owned by a joint venture between Venezuela's PDVSA and Italy's Eni SPA.
According to an Eni representative, the tanker has been stranded in the Gulf since January last year. The company had reportedly run into trouble trying to offload its cargo after tensions rose between Venezuela and the United States. Eni said that it was still waiting for the "green light" from the U.S. government to launch a salvage expedition. It believes that doing so without the country's permission could lead to "possible sanctions" against it.
Environmental advocacy group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea called on the countries along the Caribbean to band together and prevent a possible disaster. The group's corporate secretary, Gary Aboud, said that the vessel's precarious situation is "frightening" as it is currently tilting at an angle of about 25 degrees.
"These are not false images. No one is doing anything. Our cries have gone unanswered and it appears that the Nabarima's situation is worsening daily," the group said in a post on Facebook.
The organization said that if a spill happens, it could destroy the area's massive coral reef system, which has already been stressed to the point of collapse by climate change. A spill could damage the area's ecosystem beyond repair, leading to a major collapse.
Earlier in the week, leaders from the Natural Resources and Climate Change of the Venezuelan National Assembly and the Commission of Environment ordered PDVSA and Eni to immediately offload the vessel's cargo. In response, PDVSA claimed that the ship does not pose any threat.