Diesel spill in Manila Bay nearly contained

The massive oil spill in Manila Bay on Friday has been “mostly contained” as government personnel and private individuals worked the whole day yesterday to control the slick that also shut down the fishing industry in Cavite.

Ryan Santos, a district official at one of the hard-hit coastal villages, said the fuel polluting the water had dissipated noticeably a day after it was released, but its pungent stench remained.

“A few local fishermen are putting to sea again, but have to go much further out to reach the fish,” Santos said by telephone.

However, most stayed at home.

“They are complaining that the slick is fouling up their boat hulls and nets,” he added.

Local officials said fish and other marine life floated up dead and some residents fell sick from the fumes after an estimated 500,000 litres of the fuel cast a slick across 20km of coastline near the capital Manila from Thursday.

The Coast Guard said the slick, which by Friday covered a 300sqkm area, was likely released by either a fuel depot in the area or an oil tanker that had unloaded its cargo at the terminal.

Manila Bay is the country’s most important waterway in a region where about 30mn people, nearly a third of the Philippines’ population, live.

Petron Corp, the depot owner, struck a deal with the government earlier Saturday for both sides to deploy more oil containment booms and crews to speed up the clean-up, Coast Guard spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said.

“It has been mostly contained. Our latest feedback is that some of the slick is evaporating the natural way under the heat of the sun,” he said.

“Nevertheless, exposure to diesel is harmful to human health and to marine life, so we are exerting efforts to collect what is left out there,” he told reporters.

Jose Ricafrente, mayor of Rosario town in Cavite where the depot is located, vowed to file a class suit against Petron once authorities determine that it is responsible for the oil spill. He said the spill jeopardized the livelihood of 40,000 people who depend on the town’s vital fishing industry.

“I will file criminal charges of negligence and civil action with damages against the culprit” the mayor said.

The huge spill also affected the towns of Tanza, Naic and Ternate in Cavite.

Herma Shipping and Transport Corp (HSTC) however said its tanker, MT Makisig, was not responsible for the spill.

In a statement, Enrico Cavestany, HSTC president, maintained that Makisig “completed, without any incident, discharging operations of petroleum product last August 8 following safe, secure and standard operating procedures through Petron’s underwater pipeline at the Rosario, Cavite depot.”

Santos, the village official in Rosario, said about a hundred fishermen who were temporarily put out of work were helping gather the spilt fuel from the water on Saturday.

The fuel is put into water bottles, which they handed over to village officials in exchange for claim stubs that entitled them to emergency food rations from the social welfare ministry.

Rosario municipal officer Noriel Emelo said 11 barangays were affected by the slick.

Some people who fell sick after inhaling the fumes remain in hospital and are being treated for headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath and palpitation.

Rosario is a major supplier of smoked fish or ‘tinapa’.

Mayor Jose Ricafrente of Rosario town in Cavite decried the national and provincial governments’ failure to render aid to the beleaguered municipality whose 11 barangays were severely affected by the recent diesel spill on portions of the Manila Bay.

“We don’t beg, we do our own share, we don’t rely on others in spite of the problem [caused] to our peoples livelihood. We depend on our own people’s initiatives, supporting each other . . . we can survive” Mayor Ricafrente told The Manila Times in an interview.

Ricafrente earlier said that the spill jeopardised the livelihood of 40,000 people who depend on the municipality’s vital fishing industry.

“I declared a state of calamity, [releasing] calamity [funds] and 100 cavans of rice and canned goods were distributed to the victims of oil slick,” the mayor reported.

Out of the 20 barangays of the town, 11 were affected. Most residents in these barangays are fisher folk living near the shore or extension of the Manila Bay.

A first class municipality, Rosario has a land area of only 569 hectares. Fishing is a major economic activity since the town has abundant fishing grounds particularly in Barangays Wawa, Sapa Muzon and Ligtong.

Meanwhile, environmental advocates of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) remembered the Seventh anniversary of the Guimaras oil spill yesterday.

“Exactly seven years after the worst maritime oil disaster in the Philippines caused by Petron in the province of Guimaras, the same oil giant has caused a repeat performance in Manila Bay with yet another oil spill affecting several towns in Cavite province. It’s the same story over again: fish and shellfish kills, affected coral reefs, and immediate impacts on the health and livelihood of coastal communities,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

In 2006, Petron spilled 500,000 litres of bunker fuel from its contracted oil tanker MT Solar 1 in the southern coast of Guimaras, affecting marine sanctuaries and mangrove expanses in three out of five municipalities of the province and even reaching the shores of Iloilo and Negros Occidental.

“Petron is claiming the situation in Cavite is under control, but coral reefs have reportedly been smothered by oil sludge, and reported fish and shellfish kills means the oil slick has also affected marine species,” Bautista pointed out.

Kalikasan PNE has called for an independent investigation of the disaster, immediate compensation of affected communities, rehabilitation of the polluted environment, and the closure of the Petron oil depot in Rosario Town, Cavite to prevent future oil disasters in the area.

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