Petron’s latest caper

November 22, 2006

Front page of BusinessMirror, Nov. 22, 2006


In freakish turn of events, toxic shipment moves from Iloilo to Misamis Oriental

By VG Cabuag

A BARGE carrying the oil-soaked debris from the sinking of an oil tanker off Guimaras on August 11 has also sunk, spilling the same toxic material all over the sea again, this time about 5 kilometers off Misamis Oriental on the evening of Monday. Again, the rough sea was blamed for the sinking.

“We have not heard about any casualties, but usually an oil barge only carries one to two people,” said Arnie Santiago, officer in charge of the Maritime Industry Authority’s Enforcement Office. There were reports Rear Adm. Danilo Abinoja had said the two crewmen were able to escape the sinking and had survived.

Initial reports said the oil barge “Ras,” being towed by Tugboat Vega, was carrying 630 metric tons of debris in about 59,000 sacks or about 600 tons of the debris—mostly rice straw, human hair, and wood shavings. And because they are in sacks, Santiago said they do not expect the incident to become a major disaster as that of the sinking of MT Solar 1, which was carrying 2.2 million liters of bunker fuel when it sank.

The debris, he said, was being shipped to the Holcim Philippines Inc.’s Lugait cement plant in Misamis Oriental where it will be used as an alternative fuel and raw material in cement production.

Santiago said the sacked debris will only cause “rainbow ripples” in the water when spilled and would evaporate immediately. “And with the (bad) weather in the area, I don’t think the sinking will cause major damage to the communities since if ever there’ll be oil, it will scatter immediately.”

He added the sacks “would sink to the bottom of the sea and will likely leave only traces of oil, like thin filaments that would also evaporate.”

The tugboat Vega has remained in the area and is monitoring the situation, according to Petron.

Defense Secretary and National Disaster Coordinating Council chairman Avelino Cruz has also convened the Taskforce Guimaras to handle this new incident.

Environment department regional executive director Maximo Dichoso has, meanwhile, sent a team led by Director Sabulah Abubakar of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) to proceed to the area and investigate.

As of 3:20 p.m . Tuesday, he said he had yet to receive a report from the EMB team. “I’ve already dispatched a team there to assess the situation. Hopefully, it’s not worse [than the M/T Solar 1 sinking].”

Misamis Oriental Gov. Loreto Leo Ocampos was reportedly assured by Petron representatives that no leak had been detected from the sunken vessel so far, although he was quoted as saying traces of oil had been seen along the shoreline of Misamis Oriental.

Petron also dispatched a team to the area bringing with them spill booms and oil-sucking equipment. “We are taking charge of the response to this incident. We are already monitoring the area and have mobilized the Waterborne Industry Spill Equipment to deal with any contingency,” said Petron health, safety and environment manager Carlos V. Tan.

When the MT Solar 1, owned by Sunshine Maritime Corp., sank August 11 off Guimaras Island due to rough seas, its cargo of bunker oil contaminated a wide swath displacing 39,000 residents and damaging 220 kilometers of coastline that includes pristine marine reserves.

The ongoing cleanup and rehabilitation of Guimaras, experts say, will take at least 10 years. Floating the sunken tanker has been scheduled for January next year.

The Special Board of Marine Inquiry that investigated the oil spill concluded in September that all parties involved, including government agencies, were guilty of lapses and were liable for the disaster.

Greenpeace campaigner Beau Baconguis said: “Whether this latest incident [the Misamis sinking] is due to gross negligence or plain stupidity, Petron must be held accountable by the Philippine government to the fullest extent of the law. Petron has yet to fully answer for its disastrous oil spill in Guimaras, but here it is again with another environmental disaster in the making. This is truly deplorable, and betrays once again Petron’s serious lack of diligence in ensuring that the company’s operations are safe and secure.” (With J. Mayuga, P. Isla)


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