PORT OF SPAIN: Emergency workers in Trinidad and Tobago were scrambling Saturday to clean up a massive oil spill after a mysterious vessel ran aground near the Caribbean island earlier this week.

At least 15 kilometers (nearly 10 miles) of coastline have been affected by the disaster, and authorities are considering declaring a national emergency, Farley Augustine, chief secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, told reporters.

Environmental officials say the spill has damaged a reef and beaches on the Atlantic coast, boding ill for the island's resorts and hotels, the lifeline of the local economy during Carnival season.

As some 1,000 volunteers joined to help with the cleanup, Augustine said the government may elevate the accident to a Level 3 disaster.

“Everything indicates that we are going in that direction,“ he said.

The mystery vessel, identified as The Gulfstream, capsized off the coast of the Cove Eco-Industrial Park in southern Tobago earlier this week, and currents have dragged the boat shoreward.

When sighted on Wednesday, the ship was sailing under an unidentified flag and its crew made no emergency calls.

The island's Emergency Management Agency said there were no signs of life on the vessel, whose cargo was initially believed to consist of sand and wood.

Divers will try to plug a leak in the craft this Saturday, Augustine added.

He added that the island was ready to accept help from other countries and that the United Nations had offered assistance.

The disaster comes on the eve of Carnival, which attracts tourism to the twin islands.

Scarborough, the capital of Tobago, canceled a traditional children's holiday once the oil spill reached the coast. -AFP

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