Minister of Tobago Development Vernella Alleyne-Toppin has said she was actively involved in discussions between the fisher-folk association and Centrica, the company that purchased the assets of PetroCanada.
The court action brought in 2009 by some 157 Tobago fisher-folk against the international oil drilling company PetroCanada came to an end in the High Court of Justice recently with the handing over by Attorneys for PetroCanada of a cheque for $6M to Deborah Moore-Miggins, Attorney for the fishermen. Each of the fishermen received a cheque for some $37,000.
Miggins told Tobago News last week that the Government and the THA prior to granting the right to do seismic surveys and drilling for oil in Block 22, ought to have consulted with fishermen as users of the area. "They should have offered all fishermen of Tobago compensation for the loss of income they would have suffered from the activities of Petro-Canada in the waters. This is what Centrica did recently and it is our court action – not the THA as is claimed – that caused Centrica to pay compensation," the lawyer stated.
Speaking with Tobago News, Minister Toppin who highlighted the fact that she has a special interest in fishermen because of her family background, said she could not interfere with the matter involving the fishermen when she was approached because there was an on-going court matter and the fishermen were already being represented by Deborah Moore-Miggins.
"When I came on Board as a Minister, Centrica had bought over all the assets of Petro Canada but Centrica had not bought over the liabilities; so I left that in the court with Deborah Moore-Miggins where it belonged and I went on the forward path with the fisher-folk."
Toppin explained that she subsequently held several meetings with Centrica on the matter and the fisher-folk until Centrica agreed to a reasonable settlement. "Instead of giving them $7,000 for the tour of duty, I got them to give the fishermen from $15,000 and it went up to $40,000," the Minister told Tobago News. "I am happy that they have come to a solution, I do congratulate her (Deborah Moore-Miggins) for that, but I am sure that was not something that I should interfere with in the sense of dealing directly with it," Toppin added.
According to the Minister, Centrica has also agreed to facilitate several community projects including the possible introduction of a processing plant in Hermitage. She stressed that her Ministry continues to hold discussions with the fisher-folk in Tobago.
"We want to promote now, downstream industries; we have been doing that as part of the 5th growth pole. We would be doing canning, packaging and export," Toppin said.
The Tobago East Representative also told Tobago News that the government is now embarking on a "M-Fisheries Initiative." As part of this initiative, fishermen would receive smart phones that can be utilised up to 25 miles from the shore. This she expects would be in place by June.