Maritime Week: A Greasy Odyssey

September 25, 2006

IN MY PACK By Ruth G. Mercado
The Freeman 09/25/2006

WHAT do Guimaras, Doña Paz and Ivory Coast have in common? Grease. Maritime week commemorations this year is expected to wallow in mires of pollution crisis issues. But it will not be as murky as it seems. Nor will it be too slippery as to elude attention or too slimy as to justify inaction. It will instead bring to surface many misdemeanors that if left concealed, blurred and sealed may turn a crisis into an odyssey of catastrophes.

All this time, oil – from which the transport industry derives its lifeblood – has been moved and shipped in precarious and notorious ways. Like a symptom-less disease that is not detected until a person’s vital organs break down, no one would have known the risky and complacent manner by which oil and petroleum products in this country are handled, until the Guimaras oil spill.

In fact, no one would have known that maritime disasters in this country involving oil tankers far exceed tragedies involving passenger and cargo ships combined.

If not for the sinking of oil tanker MT Solar I in August where thousands of gallons of bunker fuel wiped out stretches of marine sanctuaries and beach resorts in Guimaras and neighboring islands, no one would have known that hazardous petroleum products are being shipped in decrepit tankers. No one would have known that oil shipments are intercepted or have mysterious rendezvous at mid-sea where oil is siphoned, smuggled or transferred to another vessel. No one would have known that all this time, the Philippines does not have laws regulating oil shipment and oil tankers, anti-oil pollution laws and laws that penalize people or entities liable for oil spills.

Such realization ought to sludge us with shame because the MT Solar I is not the first oil tanker involved in pollution or maritime disasters. In 1987, the MT Vector carrying thousands of gallons of petroleum collided with passenger ship MV Doña Paz off the coasts of Marinduque killing at least 4,000 passengers and crew. The Coast Guard’s inquiry board ruled that the oil tanker was not seaworthy and that it may have traveled without navigational lights making it difficult for the passenger ship to detect the approaching tanker on radar.

But while heirs of tragedy victims were indemnified with multi-million-peso damage claims, nothing was done to regulate oil shipment in this country. In its 1988 decision, the Board of Marine Inquiry blamed the MT Vector as solely responsible for the tragedy, but did not recommend anything that would have changed oil shipment practices or phase out single-hulled oil tankers. The inquiry fell short of preventing another accident, which happened almost 20 years later. This time far, far more devastating that it prompted Coast Guard to tag the Solar I sinking as “the worst oil spill.”

Also in August, thousands of miles from Guimaras, an equally “worst” toxic waste scandal happened. In West Africa’s Ivory Coast, a mixture of oil residue and caustic soda used to rinse out tanks of a Greek-owned cargo ship caused nausea, rashes, fainting, diarrhea and headaches. Dutch-based multi-national trading company Trafigura, that operates Probo Koala cargo ship, hired Ivorian firm Tommy to dispose of the sludge. But Tommy dumped an unknown proportion of 500 tons at 11 public sites across the city on August 19 and 20, making thousands of residents ill and killing seven including four children.

No matter how tough Ivory Coast’s anti-pollution laws are, these did not seem fail-safe. Eight people including transport officials, heads of Tommy and two other Ivorian companies were arrested. Outraged residents shouting “Murder” protested and set up barricades on the streets.

It’s time Philippine maritime and transport authorities discern from the Ivory Coast experience and siphon out grease from grime, industry malaise from crime. Unless oil shipment and tanker regulation are discussed extensively during forums this week, the next maritime pollution tragedy won’t come in 20 years – it may just be a breath away.


One comment

  1. We have to take care of our nature for the future and for tourism that generates income for the people of the locality.

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