Premier Craig Cannonier and the Minister of Public Safety Michael Dunkley visited the mock oil spill exercise, which took place at the Fairmont Southampton Resort. *Photo supplied
Premier Craig Cannonier and the Minister of Public Safety Michael Dunkley visited the mock oil spill exercise, which took place at the Fairmont Southampton Resort. *Photo supplied

Following a mock oil spill drill which took place on-island last week, the Government of Bermuda says it is now further prepared to deal with any potential future spills which may occur in our waters.

Last week more than 120 people participated in the four-day Bermuda ExxonMobil North America Regional Response Team (NARRT) Oil Spill Exercise, which was organized principally by Esso Bermuda Ltd and the Department of Environmental Protection.

The Premier the Hon. Craig Cannonier JP MP as well as the Minister of Public Safety the Hon. Michael Dunkley JP MP were invited to drop-in on the real-time mock spill which took place at the Fairmont Southampton Resort last Wednesday and Thursday.

The Premier said, “I was highly impressed at the level of organizational competence displayed by all during this drill. The depth of thought that went into creating this spill scenario was quite impressive and demonstrates the many aspects that must be taken into account when dealing with this kind of disaster. The cohesiveness between the local staff and the international teams was extremely commendable and I am confident that this drill has gone far in putting us in a state of readiness for any potential spills which may occur.”

For the drill, Esso Bermuda Ltd flew in to Bermuda their North America Regional Response Team (NARRT), The Response Team Inc, JVZ Response Inc as well as Clean Caribbean Americas to create an oil spill scenario and develop an action-plan under the Incident Command System (ICS). The internationally recognised ICS structure has been adapted from the one used by the US Fire Service and US Coast Guard.  The exercise was funded entirely by ExxonMobil.  The Department of Environmental Protection coordinated personnel from 15 Government Departments for the drill.

The first two days (Monday and Tuesday) involved practical exercises including the selection and testing of equipment that would be used in the event of a spill. For example, ‘boom’ was deployed from boats that, in the case of a real spill, would act as a physical barrier that floats on the surface of the water to contain the oil or deflect it away from environmentally sensitive areas.

During the last two days (Wednesday and Thursday) a mock oil spill was played out in real time with personnel responding to the evolving situation.

The goal of the exercise was to test Bermuda’s response to a mock oil spill on our near-shore marine environment using resources provided by Esso Bermuda, Government, BELCO and BIOS and then to escalate the scale of the oil spill to require overseas resources.

Throughout the simulated spill the Government aimed to isolate and contain the source of the spill; minimize its environmental impact; protect environmentally sensitive sites; and maximize oil recovery while protecting human life.

Dr. Geoff Smith, head of the Environmental Engineering Section of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), was nominated to be the On-Scene Coordinator for the Government.

Dr. Smith said: “Bermuda took much away from this drill. We identified key personnel within Government, Esso Bermuda, BELCO and BIOS that would need to work together using a range of marine vessels and equipment available here in Bermuda to address a potential spill.

“This exercise created a very realistic scenario in a Bermuda setting.  All participants of the exercise now have a much greater understanding of what is expected of them in response to an oil spill with the resources available to us. The drill was also helpful in assessing Bermuda’s ability to maintain energy supplies following a serious incident to a supply pipeline to BELCO.”

A total of 49 people flew into Bermuda for the week of the exercise, bringing with them a “wealth of experience” according to Dr. Smith.

Dr. Smith said: “Many were directly involved in the response at the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Gulf of Mexico 2010 or in the response to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1989.”

The last marine oil spill incident in Bermuda occurred in November 2007 when a fault was detected on the Esso Bermuda Ltd pipeline that supplies BELCO.