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Guimaras oil spill continues to bother public

September 12, 2006

THE SOUTHERN BEAT By Rolly Espina
The Philippine Star 09/12/2006

A CALAMITY of the magnitude of the Guimaras oil spill can’t simply be ignored. It continues to haunt the public and will do so for weeks or months to come, until a solution is found on what to do with the 1.9 million liters still inside the sunken oil tanker.

Lorenzo Tan of World Wide Fund-Philippines warned Friday that the “culprits” face suits from Guimaras, Palawan, and Negros Occidental as well as Mindanao if the bunker fuel on board MT Solar 1 is not removed soon.

Tan said satellite photos show that fresh oil was seen still oozing out of the sunken tanker, although in smaller quantities than the previous weeks.

Negros Occidental Gov. Joseph Maranon had already written President Arroyo and Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz, head of the National Disaster Coordinating Center, about the unconditional demand of Negros Occidental to speed up the removal of the sunken tanker.

Jose Campos, Petron’s vice president for marketing, estimated that 1.8 to 1.9 million liters of Solar I’s total cargo of 2.19 million liters are still at the bottom of the sea.

Maranon pointed out that for as long as the oil remains under water, Negrenses cannot rest. If Negros does not get an assurance of a timetable and an action plan on the removal of the bunker fuel in two days, the province will make more noise.

Negros Occidental, he added, will assist Guimaras in filling suits against the “culprits.”

Both the Bacolod Sangguniang Panlalawigan and the Sangguniang Panglunsod had approved resolutions demanding the removal of the oil.

However, Tan himself admitted that only oil sheen was leaking from the sunken tanker. Presidential Assistant for Western Visayas Rafael Coscoluela said the Japanese vessel Shinsei Maru had reduced the leak to only about five liters per hour.

Damage to coral reefs minimal

But there was also good news. Amid the pronouncements of many quarters against the oil spill’s damage to corals, a team of scientists from Silliman University found that Guimaras’ 47,000 hectares of hard coral were spared.

That was the good news, according to Dr. Angel Alcala, director of the Silliman University’s Angelo King Center for Research and Environmental Management.

Alcala said that it must have been high tide when the oil reached the shore.

A former Environment secretary, Alcala is the acknowledged authority on coral reefs and marine environment.

He reported that Silliman University scientists undertook 15 coastal and underwater studies. But in a separate article, Alcala said that at the Taklong Reserve of the UP Visayas, fish catch is down to less than 10 kilograms per 1,000 square meters, which is far below the 68 to 94 kilograms per 1,000 square meters catch in Dauin in the Bohol Sea.

The southern end of Guimaras, Alcala added, could generate five tons of fish per square kilometers.

He urged continuous monitoring because there is still a possibility that the remaining oil spill will sink and stay underneath the sea. He warned that oil, combined with mineral particles in the water column, may sink down to the reef.

Although he came up with an optimistic report about the impact of the oil spill on Guimaras’ corals, Alcala was less cheerful on its impact on mangroves.

“All mangrove seedlings are doomed,” he said.

Mangroves, however, can be replaced next year once the mature mangroves produce another set of seedlings. But because the mature mangroves had undergone a lot of stress, this might affect their natural cycle and thus may not bear seedlings next year.

There was also a warning against the use of oil spill dispersants exotic bacteria in eliminating the oil in the mangroves. He said it is better to leave the affected areas of mangroves alone instead of spraying dispersants and using bacteria. He urged that tidal flushing in mangrove areas be allowed to hasten the decomposition of oil.

Another marine biologist urged Petron to carry out a long-term rehabilitation program, particularly in mangrove and seagrass areas.

Dr. Lemuel Aragones, UP Marine Sciences Institute, observed that there is no honest-to-goodness program yet to address the medium and long-term effects of the oil spill.

He admitted the considerable impact on mangrove and seagrass areas and the imperative need for a concrete program to rehabilitate them.

Meanwhile, the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund started educating the public on how to apply for the $135-million grant to cover pollution damage, clean up cost, and economic losses from the Solar I oil spill.

Local government units and private organizations in Negros Occidental can also avail of the compensation fund, pointing out that they had also invested money and used other resources to anticipate the oil spill threat.

Provincial Disaster Management team head Vicfran Defante said the assurance came during a briefing by Petron and IOPC representatives Joe Nicholas, Patric Joseph and the Shipowners Protection Ltd. represented by David Rees in Iloilo City over the weekend.

The latest report — oil sheen, about the size of 25-centavo coins, reached Barangay Patic in Pulupanda, according to Defante. This was the first solid indication that the oil spill had reached Negros Occidental’s shores.

(For the rest of the column, click Rolly, Sept. 12, 2006.)

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