Oil leak intensifies

August 27, 2006

THE Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said today that the oil leaking from the sunken tanker, MT Solar I, has intensified to 250 liters an hour.

The PCG also said it is on alert as it anticipates that the oil spill off the coast of Guimaras Island could reach the Visayan Sea and severely affect the environments of Masbate and Leyte.

As this developed, executives of the oil firm Petron Corp. and the owner of MT Solar I, will face a congressional probe on the accident beginning Monday, Aug. 28.

In an interview aired over radio station dzBB, Capt. Luis Tuazon Jr., PCG Western Visayas district commander, said the tanker “has not stopped leaking oil since it sank. At first, the estimate was at 200 liters per hour. For a while, it went down to 50 liters an hour, then intensified to 100 to 150 liters an hour. The latest data shows it’s now 250 liters an hour.”

He added that the Coast Guard was experiencing difficulty setting up booms around the sunken ship because of the strong waves caused by the inter-tropical convergence zone. “With the southwest monsoon, we expect waters to be moderate to rough,” he said.

Petron is supplying the chemical dispersants being used to clean the waters of the oil sludge.

In a separate interview, PCG spokesman Lt. Commodore Joseph Conio said he was waiting for a report from a survey team sent to verify a report that the oil spill has already reached the Visayan Sea.

“When the oil spill reaches the Visayan Sea, it has nowhere to go but towards Masbate and Leyte. That’s why our men are already in the area to stop it,” he told dzBB.

Conio said hopefully, the Japanese firm contracted to survey the sunken tanker would do its job quickly and recommend the fastest way to get the remaining bunker oil out.

Meanwhile, a hearing into the Guimaras oil spill will be conducted by the Senate Committee on Environment chaired by Sen. Pia Cayetano, jointly with the Joint Oversight Committee on Clean Water Act, also co-chaired by the Cayetano. Manila Rep. Miles Roces is the co-chairman of the joint oversight committee for the House of Representatives.

Invited to the hearing are Petron chairman Nicasio Alcantara, Sunshine Maritime president Clemente Cancio, Guimaras Gov. JC Rahman Nava, PCG Commandant Vice Admiral Arthur Gosingan, Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes, and Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz (who is also National Disaster Coordinating Council chairman).

Cruz, however, invoked President Arroyo’s Memorandum Order No. 108 to keep from attending Monday’s hearing. In his letter to Sen. Cayetano dated Aug. 25, he said he needed 15 days before he could attend any hearing and would have to refer the matter to Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.

Last Friday, Senate President Manuel Villar and Cayetano conducted separate inspections of Bgy. Tando, Nueva Valencia town in Guiramas, one of the areas hardest hit by the spill.

Cayetano, along with Rep. Roces and Bukidnon Rep. Nereus Acosta, took samples of the oil sludge.

“The inputs in this hearing will be used in the finalization of the committee report that would consolidate several bills on anti-marine pollution and the creation of an oil-spill liability fund,” Cayetano said in a press statement. “A separate report will lay down the implementing law in compliance with the country’s obligations to the 1992 International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund on Oil Pollution Damage.”

Villar, for his part, said the Senate would seek funds to address the oil spill under the proposed P46.4 billion supplemental budget. Reports said the House has allocated P2 billion under the supplemental budget for the Guimaras problem.

“We would allocate funding for Guimaras, but it is also important that Petron should contribute to the cleanup and rehabilitation of the affected areas,” Villar stressed.

(Condensed from reports of GMA News and AP published on Aug. 27, 2006. Click GMA News for the full stories on the oil spill.)

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