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Gov’t starts probe of barge sinking, Petron not off hook

November 22, 2006

WHILE it continued to downplay the impact of its latest environmental debacle, Petron Corp. may still find itself at the center of a government probe into the sinking of a barge carrying some 630 tons of debris from Guimaras Island.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said Wednesday it will seek documents from Petron and the operator of the barge the oil firm commissioned to bring the debris to northern Mindanao.

“A (Coast Guard) probe team will establish the immediate cause of the incident and it will give results to concerned agencies such as the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina),” Lieutenant Commander Joseph Coyme, PCG spokesman, said in an interview on dzEC radio.

Coyme also said the Coast Guard is now debating ways to recover the sunken barge and prevent another environmental disaster.

The Barge Ras sank late Monday evening some 5.5 km from the shores of Plaridel town in Misamis Occidental.

An assessment team has been sent to the site to see if it is practical to retrieve the sunken barge, Coyme said.

He said it is too early for Petron claim that it is cleared of liability because it was the International Oil Pollution Commission that commissioned the ill-fated barge.

Petron had claimed Tuesday it should not be held liable because it was not the party that commissioned the barge, which sank after being buffeted by strong waves and winds Monday night.

It had insisted that the debris contained “only traces of oil.”

Carlos Tan, Petron public health safety and environment manager, said Tuesday afternoon that the barge was heading for a cement plant in Lugait town in Misamis Oriental when it sank.

Coyme said the Coast Guard will also ask for documents from Harbor Star, operator of the barge that sank Monday night.

“We can determine liability by looking at the contract between the consignee and the operator and carrier,” Coyme said in Filipino.

“We will also see in the investigation if all procedures were followed,” he added.

Extent of damage

However, Coyme said Monday night’s sinking may not bring the same environmental threat as the one caused by the MT Solar I when it sank at Guimaras Strait last August 11.

“Once the debris sinks, it will settle and will not float to the surface,” he said.

Meanwhile, Coyme said the Coast Guard is assessing the situation to see if it will be advisable to retrieve the barge.

The first consideration, he said, is if the barge is still hazardous to navigation, as it sank some 1,800 feet underwater.

Another consideration is the extent of damage to the environment, if refloating it will do more good than harm. The PCG will also determine how re-floating efforts could potentially bother to local fishermen.

(For the rest of the story, click GMANews.TV, Nov. 22, 2006.)

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