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Last month a video began surfacing on social media depicting a giant cargo ship tilted on its side with the narrator warning of the risk of an imminent spill. The vessel, named FSO Nabarima, has been stranded since January 2019 off the coast of Venezuela in the Gulf of Paria. The vessel carries over 80 million gallons of oil and as a result, any oil spill from the vessel would be worse than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and not far behind the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. Both of these oil spills had serious effects on wildlife, which are still being felt to this day. Local fishing industries were severely affected by the deaths of marine life and a negative perception from consumers. 

While any spill from the Nabarima would most likely not directly affect Puerto Rico, it would bring devastation to other Caribbean islands that depend on tourism and would further damage the Caribbean's ecosystem. The effects of oil spills are not limited to wildlife, but human health is also compromised. The mix of oil and chemicals used to clean up the Gulf after the Deepwater Horizon incident caused adverse side effects including cancer from chemical exposure. 

Meanwhile, officials from Venezuela and nearby Trinidad and Tobago have claimed the situation is still under control with officials from the later claiming the vessel is “intact and poses a minimum risk of any oil spills at this time.” Anchor chains hooking the vessel to the ocean floor where the only mitigation effort that had taken place at the time the video surfaced. The Venezuelan government reportedly is already moving oil from the Nabarima to another one of its vessels, though this process will take various weeks. As more oil is removed from the vessel, the risk of an imminent environmental disaster occurring has declined. 

The risk posed by the Nabarima demonstrates the common problems that arise with the extraction and shipment of oil. In Yemen an oil tanker was in a similar situation back in July and in the same month another tanker spilled 1,000 tonnes of oil onto the shores of Mauritius.Our societies are reliant on fossil fuels to power our electric grids, transportation, and to create most of our products. Not only does this dependence on fossil fuels create a risk of environmental harm from spills and other accidents, but it also accelerates climate change and increases pollution levels. The Paris Agreement signed by 197 nations in 2015 set the international path to phase out fossil fuels to mitigate the effects of climate change. While the United States pulled out of the agreement on election day,  president-elect Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin the agreement. 

Every oil-related crisis should serve as a time of reflection of what remains to be accomplished in order to reduce global emissions and create a more sustainable world. If you want to help mitigate the effects of oil spills, visit your local wildlife refuges and always stay up to date on environmental events. Together we can create a cleaner, sustainable tomorrow. 

UPRM undergraduate student (2017-2022) majoring in political science.
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