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Gov’t admits job to remove debris tough

November 25, 2006

By Lizanilla J. Amarga
SunStar Cagayan de Oro
Nov. 25, 2006

RETRIEVING the over 59,000 sacks of oil soaked debris from the Guimaras Oil Spill cleanup that sank with Barge Ras over Plaridel waters, Misamis Occidental will be “physically difficult”, even requiring a special submarine and other advance equipment used in the Guimaras Islands, authorities said Friday.

Misamis Occidental Governor Loreto Ocampos, Environmental Management Board regional director Dr. Sabdulla Abubacar, and Office of Civil Defense regional director Salvador Estudillo Friday said not a single sack of the over 59,000 oil-soaked debris has been recovered since Monday.

Ocampos said it is physically difficult to retrieve the 59,000 sacks of oil debris considering that Barge Ras sunk over 200 feet deep in the Plaridel waters.

He said this is beyond the capacity of ordinary scuba divers and those from the Philippine Coast Guard who can only reach a maximum of 150 to 200 feet.

“We will be needing even a special submarine similar to the one used in the Guimaras cleanup,” said Ocampos.

He added that Petron gave assurance that it will be using the same technology and equipment it used in the Guimaras cleanup in retrieving the oil soaked debris in Plaridel.

Abubacar said, “As of now, no sign of oil on the water surface where the barge sank. No move yet to get the contaminated debris hence it doesn’t pose immediate danger to marine lives and environment.”

But he said he has requested the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)-Northern Mindanao to send over a marine biologist to “study and assess the impact of those debris to marine lives and environment in the long run.”

“That (marine biologist report and recommendation) will determine our action to be undertaken,” he said.

Estudillo for his part said the “sacks are still under the sea” and all efforts are now being exerted to look into recovering it.

But already, Abubacar and Estudillo received reports from Petron that there were 31 pieces of five-feet long absorbent oil spill booms recovered by the Coast Guard at Oroquieta Pier.

“However, they pose no danger to environment since oil are minimal, dried and weathered already — from Roy Buhay of Petron Monitoring the sunken barge,” Abubacar’s told Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro.

But Task Force Macajalar chairman Manuel Ravanera, secretary general Sustines Magallanes, and spokesman Bencyrus Ellorin voiced alarm on the recovery of these oil booms at Oroquieta considering that the barge’s cargo is technically called “tar balls” which are strong pollutants.

They explained that tar balls are composed of hard to degrade oil residue such as asphaltenes and resin, which produce noxious fumes like hydrogen sulfide that is extremely dangerous to the environment and human health.

The barge that sank off the coast of Plaridel town in Misamis Occidental may pose direct threat to the 60-hectare Fish Sanctuary of the municipality that was established by fishers and the local government unit. This in line with the Fisheries Code of 1998 and the water quality of neighboring coastal areas in Misamis Occidental and Misamis Oriental.

“We are also very alarmed by reports that debris believed to be coming from the sunken barge had already reached Oroquita City. Near Oroquita in the municipality of Sinacaban is the very rich and beautiful Misamis Occidental Aqua-marine Park, which was established by virtue of the National Integrated Protected Areas law,” said Ellorin.

Magallanes for his part said it is of their “deepest regret” that authorities did not heed the call of the fishers to authorities to ensure the seaworthiness of sea vessels in the aftermath of the Guimaras incident.

“It is very sad that the wisdom of the poor fishers are often ignored by the authorities,” he said.

A Regional Fisherfolk Forum was held last August 30, 2006, which was participated by fisherfolk leaders from Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental, Lanao del Norte, Camiguin, and Bukidnon.

They passed a resolution asking authorities to check the seaworthiness of sea vessels carrying petroleum products and hazardous materials plying the municipal waters of the region and Bohol.

“Obviously this was not heeded when authorities allowed the ill-fated LCT Ras to sail from Guimaras Strait to Lugait, Misamis Oriental where the debris are to be disposed in the Holcim Cement factory because said barge is not designed to carry hazardous materials and not for open sea travel,” said Ellorin.

Ravanera said they are now mapping out plans to file charges against Petron and Harbor Star with not just a damage suit but also a criminal charge.

He said these companies “should be slapped the strictest hands of the law for such recklessness that is unparalleled.”

“We are coordinating with fisherfolk groups and local officials in Misamis Occidental for this,” he said.

Plaridel Municipal Mayor Edilma Bulatin is adding her voice to the clamor on actually slapping oil firm Petron Corp. with legal charges in court particularly when the equipment and the sea vessels needed to retrieve the sacks with oil-soaked debris did not arrive Friday.

She added that Municipal Board members are now looking into coming out with a resolution to this effect.

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