Where are all the loud-mouth environmental lawyers when you need ’em?!

December 22, 2006

Oil pollution board issues checks to Guimaras fishers

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
Inquirer, Dec. 21, 2006

ILOILO CITY – Four months after a massive oil spill devastated his livelihood, fisherman Eric Gomia, 41, is looking forward to having a new fishing boat.

A Land Bank check amounting to P11,598 and representing compensation from the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Fund, would still be short of the estimated P40,000 needed to buy a new boat. But he said the money would be enough for the down payment.

“We could manage. This would be a new start for us,” said Gomia.

Francisco Palacios, 62, a shell gatherer has a check for P4,488, part of which he will use to buy a pair of pants and shirt for Christmas.

Estelita Gumaca, 59, of Naoway Island in Sibunag town in Guimaras Island received P15,546. She plans to use the money to buy new fishing nets and spend part of it to buy spaghetti and bread for her family’s noche buena (Christmas Eve feast).

“It’s not much but it’s better than getting nothing at all,” said Gumaca.

They were among the 400 residents of Sibunag town who received compensation on Thursday for economic losses resulting from the August 11 oil spill. The Solar I oil tanker sank and leaked 300,000 liters of bunker fuel, 13.5 nautical miles southeast off Guimaras Island last August. The tanker was carrying a total of 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel.

The IOPC Fund is giving out checks to Sibunag claimants until Friday at the Iloilo provincial capitol. The fisherfolk received amounts ranging from P4,800 to P32,000.

The claimants signed a one-page agreement acknowledging the receipt of the compensation for economic losses in the fisheries sector from the Solar I sinking. They can cash in the checks within 30 days from the date of the issuance.

The agreement also waived the claimants’ rights to file a case against the owners of Solar I in connection with pollution damage.

IOPC Deputy Director Joe Nichols who supervised the processing and payment said they had released payments to affected residents in the towns of San Lorenzo and Jordan and would release those for Nueva Valencia and Buenavista in January and February, respectively.

“We hope to finish the first round of payments by the first quarter of next year and then proceed to another round of processing and payments for the late claimants,” Nichols told the Inquirer.

The IOPC would pay around US$2.4 million (P118.5 million at P49.375 to $1) for Guimaras claimants in the fishing sector, said Nichols.

The amount represents total compensation for 11,225 claimants in Guimaras including 1,383 in San Lorenzo, 594 in Jordan, 1,553 in Sibunag, 5,228 in Nueva Valencia and 2,467 in Buenavista.

The amount excludes claims in the seaweed industry and fishpond owners, which are still being processed.

Nichols said they had released interim payments to 24 of the 34 claimants in the tourism industry ranging from P1,000 to P250,000.

He said the IOPC would release more payments for resort owners in January upon assessment of resort losses and “until their business gets back on their feet.”

The peak season for tourists in Guimaras is between October and June.

The IOPC will also process and release compensation for affected residents in the towns of Oton, Concepcion and Ajuy in Iloilo after the Guimaras claimants have been paid.

The claimants said the compensation was below the amount they were expecting but they said their claims would take longer to process had they demanded for more.

“We are thankful that we have received this amount even if it is not much,” said 55-year-old Ana Tanaleon.

Before the oil spill, Tanaleon said she could sell six kilos of fish at P80 during a good day but she sold almost nothing at the height of the contamination of the oil sludge in San Isidro village in Sibunag.

The residents said they had returned to fishing but their catch was still not as it was before the oil spill.

The spill affected 5,437 families or 26,740 persons. It has also devastated Guimaras Island’s rich marine life and affected resorts.

Nichols said the planned removal of the remaining fuel from the wreck would proceed in late February next year. The operation is expected to last for 20 days.

The IOPC has signed a contract with a salvage firm for the removal of the remaining cargo from the sunken tanker 640 meters underwater. The operation would cost $6 million to $12 million depending on amount of oil left and the duration of operation, said Nichols.

The IOPC has also submitted a contingency plan to the Coast Guard for pollution control in case anything wrong happens during the operation.

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