Tobago Oil Spill Tug "Solo Creed" Belonged to Panamanian Firm With History of Moving Venezuelan Oil

The tugboat behind an ongoing oil spill off the Tobago coast, which has spiralled into a regional environmental crisis, belonged to a director at a network of Panamanian companies with a history of transporting oil from Venezuela, according to documents unearthed by Bellingcat and the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian that have been validated by the Zanzibar Maritime Authority.

Open sources, which include port and legal records, also raise questions about whether the now-capsized barge leaking fuel off Tobago, which the tugboat was transporting, was in any condition to carry oil on the open sea. Court records described the vessel as “presenting water leaks” and requiring “pumping services” to prevent it from sinking just months before its final, ill-fated voyage.

Bellingcat previously revealed the identity of the barge, formerly known as the Gulfstream, and traced its final journey using satellite imagery, showing that it began leaking oil days before it was found stranded.

Last month, the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of National Security stated that the tug, named Solo Creed, and the barge were bound for Guyana, which shares a sea border with Trinidad and Tobago. A report by News Source Guyana last week claimed the cargo was bound for Guyana Power and Light, which said it “wishes to unequivocally state that the Company is not related to this unfortunate incident.”

Documents also reveal a flurry of activity by entities associated with the two vessels shortly after the barge capsized and was abandoned. Paperwork for a new registered owner of the tugboat was issued in Zanzibar just days after the spill. One day after the two vessels were named publicly, a letter was sent to Trinidad and Tobago authorities on behalf of a Nigerian man who says he owns them, though his claims contradict open source evidence.

Trinidad and Tobago authorities have asked the owner of the vessels to come forward and claim responsibility for the spill, which has reached hundreds of miles into the Caribbean Sea, but no party has yet to be publicly identified.

Until now.

Family Business

Bellingcat reported last month that the last known photograph of the Solo Creed was posted by a user with the name “MELAJ OFFSHORE CORP” on MarineTraffic, a maritime analytics platform, on December 24, 2023.

A photo of the Solo Creed uploaded to Marine Traffic by the user “MELAJ OFFSHORE CORPORATION.” Notably, the ship appears to be flying the Tanzanian flag upside down.

Ship registration documents provided by the Zanzibar Maritime Authority to Bellingcat and the T&T Guardian show that the listed owner of the Solo Creed during the time of its disastrous journey was a woman named Melissa Rona Gonzalez.

In a statement to Bellingcat and the T&T Guardian, the Authority confirmed the below Provisional Certificate of Registry, which lists Gonzalez as the owner, is authentic. The period of registration includes the time period from the Solo Creed’s departure on 30 December 2023 until it abandoned the Gulfstream barge on or around 6 February 2024, as seen in satellite imagery. It expired last week on 29 February.

Zanzibar Maritime Authority registration documents for the Solo Creed provided to Bellingcat and the T&T Guardian. In an email to Bellingcat, the Authority validated the authenticity of this document and said that the certificate was issued on “30/11/2023” — the issue date of “30/11/2022” appears to be a typo. Bellingcat has blurred the Gonzalez’s address, which appears to be an apartment.

Public data from the Panamanian corporate registry shows that Gonzalez is an officer of Melaj Offshore Corporation and that the power of attorney for Melaj belongs to a man named Augustine Jackson.

Data also shows that several directors of Melaj, including Jackson and Gonzalez, are shared with three other companies: Innovation and Engineering Services, Inc.; Milan Maritime Operations, S.A.; and Milan Shipping Enterprise Corporation.

Officers of Melaj Offshore Corporation and related entities. (Bellingcat)

Bellingcat and the T&T Guardian identified Facebook profiles for several of these individuals, who frequently post images from Panama and Dubai. Posts and images on Facebook show that the business is a family affair: Gonzalez is Jackson’s wife as referenced in a 2016 Kaieteur News article, and Anilsa McNeil Gonzalez and Marilys McNeil Gonzalez are Gonzalez’ children from a previous marriage.

Melaj and Jackson appear to have a chequered history in Guyana and Venezuela. In March 2019, Reuters reported that Melaj had begun transporting oil for the state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) after the United States applied sanctions to Venezuelan oil exports in January of that year. US sanctions have a far-reaching impact on the petroleum industry, due to the importance of the US banking system on the sale of oil, as more than half of the world’s reserves are denominated in US dollars. 

In 2016, Jackson was embroiled in a legal clash with two Guyanese businessmen who filed an injunction against his firm over a payment dispute, according to Kaieteur News, a Guyanese newspaper. The business partner named in this lawsuit, June Elwin, is Jackson’s mother-in-law, as confirmed by the Guyana voter roll. Jackson countered in court by claiming he had been compelled to “smuggle fuel across international borders into Guyana,” allegations one of the businessmen called “baseless.”

Later that year, the Venezuelan sailors he employed on his vessel, the MJ Pollux A, alleged that he stranded them without food or pay. Jackson contested their account.

A post on the website RipoffReports, as well as on ShipSpotting, by fuel industry trader Moses Evelyn alleges Jackson was involved in a PDVSA fuel shipping deal gone awry in Guyana in 2016. (In an email exchange with Bellingcat, Evelyn confirmed he made the post and stands by his account.)

The Solo Creed and Gulfstream are not the only ships owned by Jackson’s family businesses. Data from the vessel ownership database Equasis shows that Melaj owns a ship named the Marilys AJ, which shares the same name as Jackson’s daughter. Innovation and Engineering Services owns a vessel named the Mikayla AJ, and Milan Shipping Enterprise Corporation owns a vessel named the Edidiong AJ, formerly known as the Sea Endeavour. Additionally, Facebook posts made by Jackson and confirmed by records from the Panama Maritime Authority connect him to another tugboat, the Capt Milan.

Like the Solo Creed, these vessels transit between Caribbean, Colombian and Venezuelan ports, and often seem to sail dark, with AIS tracking data disabled. This makes it difficult to compile a complete record of their movements.

The historic paths of vessels that Bellingcat has associated with Augustine Jackson. Numerous AIS gaps are visible, particularly around Venezuela and Colombia. Map by Thomas Bordeaux.

Gonzales does not have publicly available contact information, and did not reply to a Facebook message but, reached by WhatsApp, Jackson confirmed his ownership of Melaj Offshore Corporation. He denied any connection to the Solo Creed or Gulfstream and claimed the real owner was a man named “Dr. Abraham,” for whom he provided a phone number before blocking further communication.

In a lengthy WhatsApp message exchange, “Dr. Abraham” claimed that he had purchased both vessels in August 2023. 

He did not produce any evidence of purchasing the Solo Creed as he claimed, but did provide an ostensible bill of sale for the Gulfstream, which Bellingcat and the T&T Guardian were not able to verify. This document, dated August 28, 2023, identified him as Abraham Olalekan. The document said that he paid US$350,000 — a far higher price than the auction price ranges in Panama just months earlier — and listed the vessel as the “Gulf Stream” (sic), a misspelling of its previous name Gulfstream and in spite of the fact that it had been named the Sea Marlin for several years by that time, including in Panamanian court records from April and May 2023. Of note, the document is not notarized and contains no other form of third-party verification.

Olalekan did not provide contact information for the other party named in the document upon request. Ivan Dario Osorno (if misspelt as ‘Orsono’) in the bill of sale, appears to be a genuine individual but no open source indications could be found that he had any corporate dealings in the oil or shipping businesses. Bellingcat was unable to reach him for comment.

The Bill of Sale and Acceptance of Sale document provided by Olalekan. The document does not appear to be notarized and contains no third-party verification. Bellingcat has obscured what appears to be a residential address.

Olalekan claimed during the WhatsApp exchange that he was having both vessels transported to Nigeria when the barge sank, that he had not insured them, and that the Solo Creed was still en-route to Nigeria. Olalekan claimed “when my vessel get here in few days time you can check them on the Ais and find out for ur self” (sic). When asked why the Solo Creed had ceased transmission of AIS data during the supposed voyage and continues to not broadcast its location, Olalekan replied “I choose what to do with my property.” 

Olalekan claimed to have owned the tug since August 2023, contradicting the Provisional Certificate of Registry from the Zanzibar Maritime Authority that indicates the ship was flagged to Tanzania in November 2023 in the ownership of Gonzalez. (Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania which was given its own maritime regulator in 2009.)

Olalekan further claimed to have no business in Guyana, contradicting a second Certificate of Registration provided by the Zanzibar Maritime Authority, which stated that the Solo Creed is now owned by a Guyanese company. This second certificate was issued on 13 February 2024, six days after the discovery of the oil spill, and names the updated owner as “Intek Marine Corp.”, with an address in the Eccles neighbourhood of Georgetown, Guyana.

When asked about this contradiction, Olalekan said that he purchased the vessels from Intek Marine. He did not explain the discrepancy in dates or difference in names on his supposed bill of sale. Bellingcat and the T&T Guardian were not able to locate any company named Intek Marine in the Guyana Commercial Registry.

A Permanent Certificate of Registration provided by the Zanzibar Maritime Authority. This registration supersedes the previous Provisional Certificate of Registration from its issue date on February 13, 2024, six days after the discovery of the oil spill.

Olalekan offered no explanation for the contradictory registration documents from the Zanzibar Maritime Authority and repeatedly refused to answer why the vessel was registered in Gonzalez’s name at the same time that he claimed ownership.

Olalekan ended a conversation on 2 March 2024 by expressing surprise that people were curious about the Solo Creed, saying “[s]uch incident is not new,certain things are inevitable.” (sic)

A screenshot of a WhatsApp conversation between Olalekan and the T&T Guardian’s Asha Javeed on 2 March 2024.

Olalekan claimed to have been in contact with Trinidad and Tobago maritime authorities within 72 hours of the incident but did not produce evidence of this when asked. Independently, maritime authorities in Trinidad and Tobago provided a copy of a letter they received to the T&T Guardian, which was authored by Dr. Richard Oyiwona, who said he is Olalekan’s lawyer. The letter was dated 15 February 2024, one day after the public revelation of the barge by Bellingcat and the tug by the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of National Security, and 10 days after the loss of the barge.

When asked why he had apparently waited 10 days to report the sunken barge, which posed an immediate navigational and environmental hazard, to maritime authorities, Olalekan said he was not available for conversation as he was “at a wedding function.”

In the letter, Oyiwona claims that Olalekan purchased the Solo Creed on 12 January 2024, and that it travelled to Aruba to pick up the barge on 16 January 2024. This contradicts satellite imagery and AIS data previously reported by Bellingcat, which shows that the Solo Creed and the Gulfstream travelled together from Colón.

Oyiwona’s timeline also contradicts the Certificate of Registration from the Zanzibar Maritime Authority issued on 13 February 2024, two days before the letter was sent, that lists Intek Marine Corp. as the registered owner of the vessel.

The letter further claims that the tug and barge were travelling to Guyana in order to purchase bunker fuel, contradicting documents and reports that the barge was intended to discharge fuel oil in Guyana. The letter does not acknowledge the 13 day gap in AIS transmissions, where Tanker Trackers and Bellingcat reported the barge’s presence in Pozuelo’s Bay, near the PDVSA terminals at Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela.

Oyiwona, the lawyer who wrote the letter, did not respond to a request for comment.

Connections in Guyana

According to the barge’s booking for a port pilot (a captain who works for a port to help ships navigate their arrival), which was reported by Tobago Updates last week, the Gulfstream was destined for the Vreed en Hoop terminal of Guyana Power and Light, Guyana’s state-owned electric utility.

The document says the barge was carrying 4,652 metric tons of what has been reported to be Bunker C fuel oil, cargo worth approximately US$2 million. This information, as well as other information in the document about the ships, match the specifications of the Gulfstream and Solo Creed. The name of the captain matches crew manifest documents also obtained by the T&T Guardian and Bellingcat.

A copy of the same document was provided to the T&T Guardian and Bellingcat by a source with knowledge of the official investigation, but could not be independently verified. The name Culie Boy was first publicised by maritime attorney Nyree Alfonso in the Trinidad Express. Rafeek and Moore, the customs agents stamped on the document, did not respond to a request for comment.

The alleged port pilot booking document for the Solo Creed and its tow, the Culie Boy, first reported by Tobago Updates. The name Culie Boy was first publicised by maritime attorney Nyree Alfonso in the Trinidad Express. Bellingcat and the T&T Guardian have not been able to verify the legitimacy of this document, which was independently provided by a source with knowledge of the official investigation. Bellingcat has obscured the phone number in the document.

Guyana Power and Light had previously distanced itself from the situation. “GPL tendered for the Supply and Delivery of Heavy Fuel Oil in June 2023, via national competitive bidding,” the utility said in a statement posted to Facebook on 22 February. “Six Bids were received. The tender was awarded on October 24, 2023, to Staatsolie Maatschappij Suriname N.V. (the first ranked bidder).”

Staatsolie is the national oil company of neighbouring Suriname, and there is no indication that they were involved in the Gulfstream incident, as their shipments would not transit between Trinidad and Tobago to reach Guyana. Reached by email, Staatsolie confirmed that they had no involvement.

“An additional award for the supply and delivery of HFO was awarded to the joint venture Rapid Results Inc. and Osher International Holdings LLC (the second-ranked bidder) to augment GPL’s increasing consumption of HFO and supply requirements,” GPL’s statement continues.

GPL stressed that as “title, ownership and risk of loss for the fuel passes from the suppliers to GPL at the discharge port” and it had not received any notification about a loss of cargo from its fuel suppliers. It “unequivocally” had no relation to the oil spill, it stated.

The CEO of Guyana Power and Light, Kesh Nandlall, provided no further comment upon request.

The local partner in GPL’s additional award, Rapid Results Inc., appears to have little known history in the transport of fuel oil. An entry in the 2021 Georgetown Chamber of Commerce & Industry magazine lists the company under “Healthcare,” and includes a now-defunct URL,

A screenshot of the 2021 Georgetown Chamber of Commerce & Industry magazine. Bellingcat has obscured the phone number, address and email visible in this image.

Records from the Official Gazette of Guyana show that the owner/operator of the company is a man named Mohamed Hussain, and that the company had a licence to import petroleum as of 31 December 2023. Attempts to contact Hussain via his office and a cell phone number were not successful.

Bellingcat and the T&T Guardian found an archived version of the Rapid Results Inc. website in the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine from 2018, where the company lists consulting personnel including “Internal Medicine Specialist” and “Pharmaceutical and Vaccination Professionals.” There is seemingly no public indication that the company had previously ever been in the business of supplying fuel oil. 

However, Rapid Results appears to have links to higher echelons of Guyanese politics. Most notably, the website of Rapid Results is “Copyright Reyaud Rahman.”

Dr. Rahman previously served as the Director of Guyana’s Vector Control Department until he resigned in 2015, and as of 2021 was Executive Liaison Officer to the President of Guyana. Among his duties there, he participated in bilateral talks with Ghana “to share knowledge and experiences in the oil and gas industry.” He also currently serves as the Chairman of Guyana’s Firearms Licensing Board.

A registration number in the Guyana Gazette from the Rapid Result’s establishment in 2014 and the number on an extract from the Guyana Commercial Registry posted on Facebook, which also names Hussain, appear to show that this is the same company. In a WhatsApp conversation with the T&T Guardian, Rahman denied any affiliation with Rapid Results Inc. 

A letter posted on Facebook by Guyana’s Capitol News on 28 February claimed to be from Osher International LLC’s legal firm and Rapid Results Inc., addressed to Guyana Power and Light. It reads, “[o]n behalf of Osher International Holdings, LLC, it is my regrettable obligation to inform you that the shipment has an unforeseen delay.”

While the letter did not refer to the Gulfstream by name, it was sent on February 7, 2024, the day after the Gulfstream was due to arrive at GPL, and the same day that the Gulfstream washed up on the shores of Tobago. 

Bellingcat and the T&T Guardian could not verify the letter and the reported quantity of fuel oil is greater than the Gulfstream’s capacity. Neither Osher nor the lawyer who authored the letter replied to requests for comment.

Open source evidence suggests Augustine Jackson is not without his own connections to prominent Guyanese individuals. A 2014 tax certificate obtained by the T&T Guardian and Bellingcat from a former business partner states that Jackson resided at an address in Bel Aire Park, Georgetown. That same address is also associated with the voter and company registration of Dorwain Bess, a businessman who in 2023 was found guilty by a Guyanese court of importing fuel oil without a licence.

Screenshots from the 2023 Guyana voter rolls, and the 2016 Official Gazette of Guyana. Bellingcat has obscured the exact residential address.

Bellingcat was not able to independently verify the authenticity of the 2014 certificate, but open source company data links Jackson to Anabel Energy Offshore Services Inc. registered at the same address. 

An entry on also lists Jackson (using a known variant of his name, “Austine,” found on LinkedIn and also mentioned in online posts) as a contact for the similarly named “Anabel Energy & Marine Service Ltd.” The Nassau address provided is associated in Google Maps with Anabel Energy Offshore Services, Inc., and data from the Wyoming Secretary of State shows that Bess was the director/president.

Left: A screenshot from, showing that Austine Jackson (a known variant of Jackson’s first name) is associated with a company called “Anabel Energy.” Right: A screenshot from Google showing Anabel Energy Offshore Service Inc at the same Nassau address. Bellingcat has obscured the phone numbers, which match between the two listings.

In a conversation with the T&T Guardian, Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali said “[f]rom what I am told there was a joint venture with a US company with a local company with responsibility for logistics and management once the fuel arrived. I cannot confirm.”

A “Damaged” Barge

Bellingcat reported last month that the Gulfstream spent 15 months sitting in Colón, Panama, first at a dock known as Muelle 3, and then for the last seven months beached along an informal harbour just to the south.

Photo of the Gulfstream in Colón, Panama, by David Stanley, taken on December 14, 2022. CC-BY.

Panamanian court documents shed more light on how the Gulfstream ended up here and the barge’s condition. On March 10, 2023, Termini Financing Group, S.A., which has a concession to operate the Muelle 3 dock, filed a court order against the Sea Marlin for an unpaid balance of US$205,484.12 for its stay at the dock, since September 13, 2022. Termini stated that it had not received communication or payment from the operators of the Sea Marlin, named as Star Goods Petroleum SA, since the barge’s arrival.

In the court order, Termini pointed out that the barge had been damaged since it entered the port area and had water leaks so serious they required pumping water from the vessel in order to prevent it from sinking.

An excerpt from a court order containing a description by Termini of the barge’s condition.

The Gulfstream had to be auctioned three times to sell: on May 9, 2023, with a minimum price of US$187,500, on May 16, with a minimum price of US$125,000, and finally on May 23 with a minimum price of just the court process expenses. On May 24 court records indicate that the matter had been resolved. Termini received just US$7,496.30 for the sale. The Órgano Judicial de Panamá did not respond to a request for more information about the purchaser, and further public records could not be located.

As previously reported by Bellingcat, between May 29 and June 3, 2023, the Gulfstream had been moved from Muelle 3 to the beach just to the south, which appears to serve as an informal harbour. On 30 December 2023, having been sold with serious maintenance issues, and seemingly without having visited any shipyard for major repairs, the Gulfstream was removed from its harbour to anchor in Colón. On 12 January 2024 it began its voyage for Venezuela.

The Gulfstream has had issues before. In 2019, after going missing at sea for seven days, the barge ran aground on a beach in Cordóba, Colombia. Just weeks later, the vessel again had navigational difficulties due to adverse weather conditions, and had to be escorted to port by the Colombian Coast Guard.

Off to Venezuela

Videos obtained by the T&T Guardian and Bellingcat from a source who previously communicated with the crew, filmed in January, show the Solo Creed en route with the Gulfstream. In the audio of one video, which has been removed to protect the identity of crew members, a voice can be heard saying that they are travelling to Venezuela.

Videos taken from the Solo Creed on its journey in early 2024 provided to the T&T Guardian and Bellingcat. Audio has been removed.

Bellingcat geolocated additional videos provided by the same source to just offshore Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela, in Pozuelo’s Bay as previously identified on satellite imagery. Bellingcat also matched the “fairlead” visible on the bow of the ship in the video to the Gulfstream barge.

Geolocation of the above video obtained by the T&T Guardian and Bellingcat shows that it was filmed offshore from Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela, in Pozuelo’s Bay. Top image from Wikipedia, by “Oniblis photography”. Bottom image is a screenshot from the video embedded below.
Videos apparently taken from the Solo Creed and Gulfstream on their journey in early 2024, provided to the T&T Guardian and Bellingcat. Audio has been removed.

Additional videos, which were screened on Tobago Updates earlier this week after reportedly circulating on social media, and also appear to have been filmed by the crew, show the Gulfstream half-submerged in the water.

Videos first shown on Tobago Updates that appears to show the Gulfstream as it was sinking. Audio has been removed.

Long shadows cast by the poles on the barge’s deck suggest that this video was filmed in the morning or late afternoon. As satellite imagery shows that the barge and tug were still en-route on February 5, 2024 at 10:29 AM local time and that the barge was capsized on February 6, 2024 at 10:41, these videos were likely taken in the afternoon of February 5 or early in the morning on February 6.

AIS records do not show any other vessels in the area of the incident during this timeframe, and Bellingcat was able to plausibly, though not conclusively, match the railing, life preserver, and staircase with their configuration on the Solo Creed.

Left: screenshots from the above video with the sinking Gulfstream. Right: an image of the Solo Creed with the matching location highlighted.

In the video’s original audio, which has been removed to protect the identity of the crew members, a voice can be heard saying in Spanish, “She’s listing and we couldn’t recover her. We tried everything to do it, but it couldn’t be done.”

Less than two days later, oil began to wash up on the shores of Tobago. Last week, the oil reached Bonaire, stretching more than 100 miles across the Caribbean, and continuing to threaten marine ecosystems.

This article was updated on 5 March, 2024, to include a comment from Staatsolie.

Lotte van de Waal, Ethan Doyle, Mikael Hoffman, and members of Bellingcat’s Discord community contributed research.