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IOPCF defends oil spill compensation given to Guimarasnons

January 12, 2007

By Maricar M. Calubiran
The News Today, Jan, 12, 2007

INTERNATIONAL Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPCF) Deputy Director Joe Nichols debunked retired judge David Alfeche’s pronouncement that the compensation received by Guimaras residents affected by the Solar 1 oil spill was “disadvantageous.”

“I am afraid that the statement allegedly made by retired judge David Alfeche Jr. that the agreement was disadvantageous to claimants in that they have to irrevocably waive their rights for further court claims is incorrect,” said Nichols in a statement sent to this paper.

In last week’s press conference organized by K8/11, a civic organization, Judge Alfeche also said many of the affected fisherfolk were unaware of the implication of signing the agreement in their desire to immediately receive their oil spill compensation.

Alfeche specifically pointed to the provision that the claimants irrevocably waive their rights to further claims from the owners of Solar 1 in relation to the oil spill damage. The same agreement would prevent the residents from seeking future claims if another oil spill would happen from the wreck.

The tanker, as well as an estimated 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel, have yet to be removed. He said there is still a possibility of another oil spill because thousands of liters of bunker fuel are still inside the tanker.

In Guiwanon, an island barangay in the town of Nueva Valencia, at least 234 residents have refused to sign the final settlement agreement drafted by the IOPCF.

Alfeche also cited the case of the victims in the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989. He said until now the affected residents continue to receive payments from Exxon. Their payments have also been increased.

Alfeche, along with Monsignor Meliton Oso of the Archdiocese of Jaro, have called on residents of Guimaras affected by the oil spill to reject the settlement agreement.

The Archdiocese has tapped the Sapalo and Velez Law Offices to help the residents seek higher compensation.

Oso, director of the Jaro Archdiocese Social Action Center, also said the affected residents were being paid a “pittance” for surrendering their rights to seek just compensation.

In an e-mail, Nichols explained that if oil from the wreck spills again before or during the salvage operations of Solar I scheduled in early March, and if the fisherfolk on Guimaras were to suffer from further pollution of their surroundings, “they would be perfectly entitled to claim further compensation.”

Nichols stressed that the IOPCF has made this position very clear from the outset. The Fund held a series of workshops for officials of the Guimaras provincial government and representatives of the fishing communities on the island shortly after the oil spill.

During those workshops, the IOPCF described the scope of compensation available under international Conventions (1992 Civil Liability Convention and 1992 Fund Convention) and explained the claims assessment and payment process, including the terms of the settlement agreements during those workshops.

He explained that the IOPCF currently has two types of receipts and release agreements with the Guimaras residents. Those fishers solely engaged in catching wild stocks of fish and shellfish have been offered compensation for losses of earnings over a period of three months (11 August to 11 November, 2006).

Nichols added that the Fund believes that fishing activities after the three-month period returned to normal and so those fisherfolk are being asked to sign full and final settlement agreements for that period. “However, there is another group of fisherfolk, who besides being engaged in catching wild stocks of fish and shellfish, are also engaged in aquaculture, such as the cultivation of seaweed,” he said.

The Fund has not yet completed its assessment of the claims for losses in the aquaculture sector, so fisherfolk engaged in such activities are being asked to sign an interim receipt and release agreement. Once their remaining losses have been assessed, those claimants will also be asked to sign full and final settlement agreements when they receive their compensation, said Nichols.

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