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31 DAYS OF AGONY

September 11, 2006

A month after sinking, Solar 1 still waiting to be ‘salvaged’

GUIMARAS – A month had passed since a Petron-chartered vessel carrying 2.1 million liters of oil sank in the Guimaras Strait, but MT Solar 1 remains at the bottom of the strait and could spill more bunker fuel.

According to the Philippine Coast Guard, about 350,000 liters of oil have spilled from the tanker since August 11. The remaining 1.8 million liters is an ecological time bomb that will cause long-term and possible irreversible damage to the environment and to the livelihoods of people, ecological watchdog Greenpeace warned.

While about 40,000 people in Guimaras and Iloilo provinces have been dislocated by the oil spill, the Japanese team that surveyed Solar 1 has yet to release its recommendation – either to entomb the tanker, siphon the remaining bunker oil from it, or re-float it.

The survey team is expected to release its recommendations sometime this week yet, according to the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC).

Meanwhile, fishermen in affected communities especially in Guimaras are facing a desperate and uncertain future. The oil spill has wreaked unimaginable havoc to the pristine marine resources of Guimaras, and to the livelihood and survival prospects of its people.

The Regional Disaster Coordinating Council (RDCC) reported that 234.84 kilometers of coastline have been affected as of September 8, 15.8 square kilometers of coral reefs, 479.08 hectares of mangroves and 58 hectares of seaweeds.

The RDCC also recorded 1,070 persons with oil spill-related diseases/symptoms. Guimaras has the most number of sick persons – 999. The island province also has recorded two deaths as confirmed by the Department of Health (DOH).

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared on September 6 that the oil spill had been “contained”. Petron seconded her, saying that the “worst is over.” But not everybody bought their statements.

The worst may yet happen if the remaining containers of the tanker holding the remaining 1.8 million liters of bunker fuel will break open due to strong water pressure, warned Gerry Ledesma of the Negros Forest and Marine Conservation Foundation.

Ledesma said strong westerly winds bring strong sea current. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) agrees.

PAGASA officer-in-charge Dr. Prisco Nilo also said the oil spill cleanup must be fast tracked before the wind pattern reverses in November; he said the reversal could possibly “transport” the oil spill in the vicinity of the Visayas.

He added that from the current wind pattern from southwest to the northeast, the wind pattern will completely reverse, resulting to the transport of the spilled oil towards Mindanao and Southern Visayas area this November up to around February or early March.

The RDCC had identified 38 threatened municipalities – one in Guimaras, 16 in Iloilo and 21 in Negros Occidental. These are:

• Guimaras – Jordan
• Iloilo — Miag-ao, Guimbal, Tigbauan, Oton, Leganes, Zarraga, Dumangas, Barotac Nuevo, Anilao, Banate, Barotac Viejo, Batad, Estancia, Carles (including Sicogon Island, Calagnaan Island, Binulwangan Island and Naburut Island), Concepcion (including Tagubahan Island, Igbon Island, Malangaban Island and Pan De Azucar Island) and Iloilo City (Villa in Arevalo and in Molo Districts); and
• Negros Occidental — Himamaylan, Binalbagan, Hinigaran, Pontevedra, San Enrique, Valladolid, Pulupandan, Bago City, Talisay City, Silay City, E.B. Magalona, Victorias City, Manapla, Cadiz City, Sagay City, Escalante City, Ilog, Cauayan, Sipalay City, Hinobaan and Bacolod City.

Petron said it would continue to finance the cleanup and rehabilitation of the areas contaminated by the oil spill.

Virginia Ruivivar, Petron’s public affairs manager, said in a weekly forum in Quezon City on Saturday that the company would fund the rehabilitation of the hundreds of oil-contaminated coastline in Guimaras and the hundreds of hectares of mangroves, as well as provide financial support to about 400 fisherfolk who have lost their livelihood.

Solar 1 owner Sunshine Maritime is claiming $6.7 million in insurance from the Shipping Owners of Luxembourg. The money would be used to pay for pollution damage, compensation for stricken communities, tourism loss and deaths resulting in the spill.

Ruivivar said that if the fund would not be enough, Petron has a $315-million insurance claim with the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund that it could tap.

Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral said, “The department has propositioned standby resources at its field office in Iloilo City: P2 million for cash-for-work projects, P2.5-million stockpile of relief commodities and P1.2-million worth of relief goods from Mirant Philippine Foundation.”

Cabral said the United Nations is providing protective gear for the cleanup and will come up with an assessment program from the spillage. The UN has given the country access to $16-million, or P800-million, support fund for the oil spill.

Ruivivar said there are three phases in the rehabilitation program where the affected families could earn as much as P300 a day: the coastal cleanup, mangrove cleanup and mangrove replacement.

In the ongoing coastal clean up, about 1,600 residents were already involved, Cabral said. Two members of each family spend four hours each, or eight hours per family per day. They receive the money in the afternoon.

Figures from the department showed that as of September 8, Petron has spent P5.52 million as payment to the families hired as cleanup crews in the 29 affected barangays in the municipalities of Nueva Valencia, Sam Lorenzo, Sibunag and Jordan.

The department, on the other hand, has provided relief augmentation assistance worth P1.4 million to the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council for rice, assorted canned goods and family packs, Cabral said.

Cabral added that her department would also release an augmentation support of 3,333 sacks of rice worth P1.7 million to Guimaras.

From Panay News, Sept. 11, 2006.)

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