'Table top' exercise held by Oil Spill Committee

A "table top" oil spill emergency response drill was conducted by government and private sector officials yesterday during the group's tri-monthly meeting.

Michael Wallace, a public analyst from the department of Environmental Health Services directed the meeting of the Oil Spill Contingency Committee, held at the College of the Bahamas.

Public sector and private oil and fuel company representatives divided into four teams, took part in the exercise, which involved damage assessment and controlling and cleaning up the "oil spill."

A simulated press conference was conducted, during which a designated spokesperson addressed the media about the ongoing attempts to contain and clean up the oil spill.

The committee meets every three months, since it was established two years ago and a plan of action was drawn up.

The committee is comprised of persons from the Cabinet Office, the Port Department, Environmental Health Services, Foreign Affairs, The Bahamas Oil Refining Company (BORCO), South Riding Point Holding Company Limited, Esso, Texaco, Bahamas Air-Sea Rescue Association (BASRA), Freeport Harbour Company, the Ministry of Tourism, and the Attorney General's Office, whose role it is to determine who is responsible and should shoulder the blame for the accident.

"In a nutshell, the committee is a culmination of governmental and private sector and special interest groups as well as community activists," Wallace said.

In the simulated drill, the report of the spill was called into the Department of Environmental Health Services at 8:30, after which the Incident Command, Operations Teams, Media Observers and Resources Units "sprung into action."

In responding to the environmental threat of an oil spill, Wallace said no one occurrence is like any other. A programme, designated APELL - for Awareness and Preparedness for Emergencies at the Local Level - is used a guideline for emergency response teams.

Apart from the immediate adverse environmental effects, Wallace said, an oil spill also has far-reaching economic effects on the effected country as it may destroy coastlines and underwater marine life.

He directed members of the press to the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan booklet which categorized oil spills into three tiers:

* Tier One is considered a small spillage from a ship or oil-related activities.

It is generally caused by "bad housekeeping" such as a broken hose or over-filling a tank, and should be contained by relevant response units.

* Tier Two is a larger spill, possibly the result of a tanker accident, but one which can be contained by the concentration of all government and industry response resources within the country at local or national levels.

* Tier Three is an incident which overwhelms all local and national resources, and demands external reinforcement from nearby states such as friendly neighbours and a specialized overseas response organisation such as the Clean Caribbean Co-operative (CCC) at Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, or Oil Spill Response at Southhampton, England. Such an incident frequently becomes a major international affair involving a variety of agencies.

This national plan is written to respond to and oil spill of any size.

An oil spill can cause a government anywhere from $18,000 to $25,000 to clean up, Wallace said.


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