Trinidad government hires two firms to recover sunken oil barge

A satellite image shows a close-up view of a capsized barge and an oil spill, off the shore of Tobago Island

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Trinidad and Tobago has hired two remediation and salvage firms to help clean up an ongoing oil spill off Tobago and salvage the leaking barge, the country's Ministry of Energy said on Tuesday.

It has been almost two weeks since the oil spill was first discovered off Tobago's Atlantic coast after a barge ran aground on a reef. The spill has entered the Caribbean Sea, threatening nearby Venezuela and Grenada.

"An international partnership comprised of T&T Salvage LLC and QT Environmental Inc, both subject matter experts and licensed oil spill removal organizations, has been engaged on-water oil recovery, survey, and plans to conduct cargo lightering and wreck removal," the ministry said.

The barge, which was being towed by a tug boat when it went aground, carried as much as 35,000 barrels of fuel oil, Tobago officials have said. The tug and its operator have not been disclosed.

Several beach and golf resorts in Tobago popular with foreign tourists have closed access to the ocean. The nearby Scarborough cruise ship port is being protected from the spill by containment booms.

Trinidad and Tobago's Energy Minister Stuart Young on Friday told Parliament the government was trying to identify the owners of the barge and has sent diplomatic notes to the governments of Panama, Aruba and Guyana. The government believes the barge was being towed from Panama to Guyana via Aruba when it sank.

(Reporting by Curtis Williams in Houston; Editing by Aurora Ellis)