Tug Owner Linked to Tobago Oil Spill Potentially Identified

Aerial view o a tugboat and oil spill
Updated Published

A collaborative investigation by Bellingcat and the Trinidad & Tobago Guardian has identified a Panama-based entity, Melaj Offshore, as the company behind one of the most severe oil spills in the Caribbean in recent memory.

Bellingcat, an investigative journalism organization from the Netherlands, alongside evidence from ship registration records provided by the Zanzibar Maritime Authority, has pinpointed Melissa Rona Gonzalez, an executive at Melaj Offshore Corporation, as the registered owner of the Tanzania-flagged, 1976-constructed tugboat Solo Creed. This tug was involved in the incident with the Gulfstream barge.

The registration details confirm the Solo Creed's documentation covered the period from its departure on December 30, 2023, until its disengagement from the Gulfstream barge around February 6. The documentation was valid through February 29.

Panama’s corporate registry lists Gonzalez as a Melaj Offshore officer, with her husband, Augustine Jackson, holding the company’s power of attorney.

The tug and barge are known for transporting Venezuelan crude oil. On its last voyage, the barge carried approximately 35,000 barrels of oil intended for Guyana but encountered trouble en route.

Following the barge's overturn near Tobago, the resulting oil spill extended hundreds of kilometers west, impacting the shores of Bonaire, and later affecting Aruba and Grenada, with Curaçao also on high alert.

Bonaire’s interim governor, Nolly Oleana, reported that intensive clean-up operations are underway. While oil has reached the island’s eastern shores intermittently, it has spared the popular dive sites and tourist areas on the west. Oleana warned of the potential for more oil to affect various parts of the island.

Bonaire is in discussions with Trinidad and Tobago's government for compensation related to the spill.

Orellana stated, “We are in contact with Trinidad and Tobago. Together, we do want to prosecute. A legal expert from the Netherlands is in contact with a lawyer from Trinidad and Tobago. We both just don’t know who owns the ship yet. And we also don’t know who owns the oil product on the ship. Once this is known, follow-up steps will be taken.”