Aruba issues alert after oil spill reached neighboring Bonaire

(Reuters) - The Caribbean island of Aruba issued an alert on Tuesday after an oil spill that was first spotted near Tobago spread to neighboring Bonaire, threatening its mangrove forests and national parks.

Several Caribbean nations have contacted Trinidad and Tobago to coordinate responses as the government of the twin-island country tries to halt oil spilling from a barge that capsized in early February while carrying up to 35,000 barrels of fuel oil.

"We have divided Aruba's territory in four sections so each department is monitoring," the director of Aruba's Crisis Management Office (CMO), Rino Hermans, told Reuters. Turtle nesting sites and tourist beaches will be protected, he said.

Aruba's government plans to activate a 60-person team of first responders and a cleanup plan as soon as the oil slicks are visible near its shores, the CMO said.

A similar oil spill coming from Trinidad hit several nations across the Caribbean seven years ago. Hermans said this could be more difficult to resolve as the vessel's owner and operator have not been identified.

On Monday, Bonaire's government said the oil was posing a "serious threat to both humans and nature," and that emergency services had been mobilized. Social media posts by residents and a local media showed pictures of oil-blackened sand, reefs and birds at some beaches.

Aruba's government is ready to help Bonaire with its cleanup efforts. "Human resources are needed, not equipment, in this phase," Hermans said.

Oil was also detected in Grenada's territorial waters, the closest island to Tobago, Trinidad's government said last week.

Trinidad's government completed a survey that will help it identify any hazards and debris to safely allow for a support vessel to work on the capsized barge, it said on Tuesday.

The volume of the spill, origin, intended destination and ownership of the barge remain unknown. But Trinidad said last week that the vessel carrying fuel oil was navigating alongside a tugboat that has not been located.

(Reporting by Tibisay Romero and Curtis Williams, writing by Marianna Parraga; editing by Gary McWilliams)