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Anti-oil-spill order placed on hold

December 29, 2006

By VG Cabuag
Reporter, BusinessMirror
Dec. 29-30, 2006

THE Philippine government’s plan to implement a United Nations rule, which intends to reduce oil spills was put on hold after a recent-shake up at the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).

According to a transport official, an order which mandates double hulls on oil tankers was supposed to endorsed during the Maritime Industry Authority’s (Marina) board meeting last September, weeks after a carrier spilled crude off Guimaras island, destroying the area’s mangroves. While the order’s approval was deferred for the next Marina board meeting, it has yet to be scheduled.

The same transport official disclosed that even Marina was puzzled by the apparent policy shift since the order was already approved in principle after Marina administrator Vicente T. Suazo Jr. held series of meetings with the country’s association of tanker owners, which did not oppose the move.

However, the owners had little choice since oil companies such as Petron Corp. and Pilipinas Shell are already requiring them to use double hull, double bottom vessels, making Marina’s circular just a formality.

Meanwhile, after Marina’s September board meet, former DOTC undersecretary Agustin Bengzon, who was in charge of maritime affairs, was replaced by Maria Elena Bautista.

Bengzon was transferred to head the Maritime Leasing Corp., a subsidiary of the state-led National Development Company (NDC), replacing Teodoro Villanueva.

For her part, Bautista said that the circular would be up for implementation by 2008.

“I just have some grammatical corrections on the draft memorandum circular,” she said.

The International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency, which looks after maritime safety, said that single-hull ships should be phased out between 2005 to 2010, depending on the date of the vessel’s construction.

Single-hull tankers 15 years or older require a condition assessment scheme, which stipulates stringent verification of ships’ structural conditions, among others.

In October 2003, ocean-going single hull tankers were banned from entering ports in European Union, after supertanker Prestige broke in half and capsized off the coast of Galicia, Spain.

Besides spilling half of the 77,000 tons of oil it carried, the October 2002 incident damaged the beaches of Iberian Peninsula and killed other marine life. That incident followed the sinking of the Erika, another tanker, off the coast of France in December 1999.

For its part, the United States also enacted a similar regulation when the Exxon Valdez sank off Bligh Reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound spilling 10.8 million gallons of crude on March 1989.

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