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That oil barge sinking off Misamis Occidental

November 25, 2006

The Southern Beat
By Rolly Espina
The Philippine Star 11/25/2006

Excerpt

THE sinking of that oil barge off Plaridel in Misamis Occidental Monday was something that was bound to happen.

At least, the Philippine Coast Guard had opposed the use of barges to transport oil-contaminated debris from Guimaras province. But the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) and the regional inter-agency task force on the Guimaras oil spill allowed it anyway.

Capt. Luis Tuason, PCG commander for Western Visayas, said he had written Presidential Assistant for Western Visayas Rafael Coscolluela, chief of Task Force Solar I Oil Spill, and Marina regarding the risks of transporting the oil debris by barges.

But apparently that went over the head of the recipients of the PCG warning. And as Capt. Tuason pointed out, Marina issued a “special permit to transport hazardous cargo” to the barges contracted by Petron.

What surprised Tuason was that Marina asked the PCG to inspect the barges after the issuance of the special permits. Normally, he said, inspection should have been conducted before the permit was given.

“We already told them that we were not amenable to using the barges. But they still wanted us to inspect the vessel before going to Lugait in Misamis Occidental. And they wanted the inspection conducted after the permit had been issued,” was how Tuason put it.

“In short, that was like washing their hands off the responsibility,” he told Iloilo mediamen.

Barge Ras was on its way to Lugait when it sank Monday night off Plaridel, Misamis Occidental.

None of the six crew of the tugboat Vega, which was towing the barge, was reported missing.

The barge left Cabalagnan port in Nueva Valencia Sunday and was being towed by Vega when water entered the cargo hold of the barge and sank it.

Petron health, safety and environment manager Carlos Tan explained that strong winds blew off the tarpaulin covering the barge, allowing the water to come in.

Hazardous materials, Tuason pointed out, should be transported not in bulk and in sealed containers by regular cargo ships or other closed vessels like tankers.

Petron officials also said that no oil sheen has been detected. Company personnel, he claimed, are monitoring the shoreline to assess potential damage.

But Plaridel officials are not taking things lying down. The town mayor claimed on television that while there had been no perceptible oil oozing from the deadly chemical, there was no guarantee that the oily debris would not destroy the municipal fishing grounds of Plaridel.

But the point is, the barge sank despite the warnings from the PCG. So what is Marina’s answer to that? As well as Petron’s?

(Click Southern Beat for the entire column.)

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