Guimaras Oil Spill
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The oil tanker M/T Solar I, carrying more than two million liters of bunker fuel, sank on August 11, 2006 at the Guimaras Strait off the coast of the Guimaras and Negros Occidental provinces, causing some 500,000 liters of oil to pour into the strait. Siphoning the remaining 1.5 million liters from the sunken tanker, at a depth of more than 600 meters, is scheduled for January 2007.<ref name="BBC NEWS">"Oil spill threatens Philippines", BBC NEWS, 2006-08-15. </ref>
A lot has already been reported and said about the recent oil spill which has now adversely affected marine sanctuaries and mangrove reserves in three out of five municipalities in Guimaras Island and reached the shores of Iloilo and Negros Occidental. It is heartbreaking that the oil spill occurred in the Visayas Sea which is considered a rich fishing ground that supplies most of the fisheries demand for the entire country. (NDCC, August 2006) Oil spills inhibit the growth of phytoplankton which are the primary source of food for all marine life (Castro and Huber, 2000). Oil clogs the gills of fishes and the filtering structure of benthic organisms such as oysters and clams. Feeding and reproduction are also hindered and these organisms become susceptible to diseases. Its effects on corals are swollen tissues, excessive production of mucus and tissue degeneration. For marine birds and mammals, such as whales and dolphins, their insulation and buoyancy are affected since their feathers and fur become matted and soaked with oil (Sumich, 2000).
Among coastal ecosystems, the mangrove forest and salt marshes are the most sensitive since oil cannot be dispersed by wave action and is absorbed by the fine sediment characteristics of these areas. It can remain in these areas for more than a decade. Lightly oiled mangroves are likely to recover after a year while those that were heavily oiled will delay its recovery. There are also observed decrease of flower and seed production and defoliation resulting in seeding mortality and a lower growth rate.
Haribon sent its two biologists to Guimaras to rapidly assess the damage and talk to the affected communities regarding their immediate needs. Definitely Haribon will be providing assistance to the area particularly for the long-term rehabilitation of the area. Finally, the government has evacuated the affected families who have already been exposed to the toxic elements of the crude oil. According to reports gathered in the field, people have already contracted skin diseases.
The tremendous task of restoring the affected coastal environment that include cleanup and reestablishment efforts in mangroves, sea-grass beds and coral reefs are necessary activities in order to bring back life in these dead waters. Immediate strategies should be taken by state and non-state actors to set up alternative livelihood activities for all affected communities. Policies on navigational lanes and national shipping avoidance measures need to be reviewed or formulated if these are absent, recognizing that the Philippines is part of the Indo-Malay-Philippine Archipelago (IMPA) which is considered the area of highest marine biodiversity. (Bellwood &Wainwright 2002, Mora et al 2003 in Carpenter & Springer, 2004).
Petron Corp. and Sunshine Maritime Development Corp. should immediately act on the proper and legal disposal of oil collected by the local communities that are currently deposited in the area. Authorities should immediately implement proper handling of the toxic oil debris by local communities. These oil debris are health hazards that may cause skin reddening, edema and acute inhalation poisoning and prolonged exposure may affect the central nervous system (NDCC 2006). Bunker fuel, toxic as it is, should be handled by trained professionals and not by the victims of this calamity. Petron should pay the communities for the marine damages as fisherfolk and not as hired help for the oil spill cleanup.
It is disheartening that a big corporation as Petron with its corporate social responsibility programs cannot even ensure the safe transport of oil and other petroleum products. Petron should have standard operating procedures for the safe transport such products.
The DENR and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources should prepare a coastal sensitivity atlas that will guide the formulation of navigation routes for the transport of oil and petroleum products or other toxic and hazardous substances across Philippine waters. In this connection, the immediate delineation of municipal waters should be implemented since it will define the zones of the delicate coastal environments that are necessary for the preparation of the atlas and will allow local governments to effectively monitor any illegal disposal of wastes into their municipal waters. The conduct of resource valuation will also help determine environmental impacts that can be inputs into the formulation of policies.
Several causes has been mentioned, including bad weather and human error.
Allegations have been made stating that the tanker only had a capacity of 1.2 million, implying the possibility of overloading. Other investigations have claimed that the captain of the ship has no capacity to manage it.
The spill has damaged Taklong Island National Marine Reserve, a marine sanctuary and feeding and breeding ground for fish and other species. <ref name="BBC NEWS">"Oil spill threatens Philippines", BBC NEWS, 2006-08-15. </ref>
Dr. Jose Ingles, eco-region coordinator of the World Wide Fund for Nature in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, said that the damage may be felt by at least two generations. He warned that the disaster may have damaged the reefs and mangroves, scarring the ecosystem and causing seafood yields to significantly decrease. According to him, the worst hit would be the shorelines, the coasts and the swamplands with mangroves. This will greatly impact the livelihood of the fishermen, mostly living in poor conditions. <ref name="inq7">"‘Sensitive habitats can be smothered by oil’", INQ7.net, 2006-08-24. </ref>
In the south-southeast of the spill site is located the Sulu Sea, a deep water area frequented by commercially valued fishes. The towns of southern Negros Occidental province prides themselves as the home of the Blue Marlin and the Yellow Fin Tuna. This is an important source of income for the communities. When the slick is not effectively contained, this will surely damage this thriving local industry.
As of 22 August, the Philippine Coast Guard says that the spill has affected 20 communities in 4 municipalities in Guimaras as of 22 August 2006. It also threatens 27 communities in Iloilo province and 17 others in Negros Occidental.<ref name="sunstar-1">"Governor says no to oil sludge disposal in Guimaras", Sun.Star Bacolod, 2006-08-23. </ref>
A villager from Barangay Lapaz, Nueva Valencia, Guimaras became the first casualty directly affected by the spill. He died after inhaling the fumes of the oil sludge causing him to contract cardio-respiratory disease.<ref name="sunstar-1" /> Two workers from the ship has also been reported missing.
On August 19, the Philippine government has asked the governments of Indonesia, Japan and the United States to help assist with the cleanup. <ref name="inq7.net">"RP sends SOS on oil spill US, Japan, Indonesia help sought", INQ7.net, 2006-08-20. </ref>
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo created Task Force Guimaras on 22 August in order to oversee both the cleanup of the oil spill and the retrieval of the 1.8 million liters or so of tanker fuel oil still remaining inside the tanker. The government has also ordered the creation of the Special Board of Marine Inquiry to determine who and what caused of the spill .<ref name="inq7-1" />
Guimaras Governor JC Rahman Nava has objected to the proposal of disposing the oil wastes within the province.<ref name="sunstar-1" />
Clemente Cancio, president of Sunshine Maritime Development Corporation (SMDC), the company which owns M/T Solar I, said that their foreign insurer is willing to pay the cost of damage brought about by the oil spill.<ref name="sunstar-1" />
President Gloria Arroyo vowed a full investigation into the country's worst ever oil spill that has devastated marine ecosystems in the central Philippines. Arroyo also ordered the justice department to join a special task force heading an investigation and clean up on the island of Guimaras, where some 300 kilometers (180 miles) of coastline, including stretches of pristine beaches, have been affected by the oil slick from the sunken Solar 1 tanker. "We shall do everything in our power to right the wrongs caused by this unfortunate incident," Arroyo said after visiting the island, adding that she was deeply pained by the disaster that she has declared a "national calamity". <ref name="PhilStar report on Guimaras oil spill">"Arroyo vows to get to bottom of oil spill", PhilStar, 2006-08-26. </ref>
On August 17, British oil experts,sent by SMDC's foreign insurer, arrive in Guimaras to help assess the situation. SMDC states that the experts will check the extent of the oil pollution. The Britons conducted an aerial survey over Guimaras Island and will come up with the recommendations based on their findings. <ref name="GlobalNation">"British experts to help with oil spill clean-up", INQ7.net, 2006-08-18. </ref> <ref name="YahooBritishOil">"British experts to help with oil spill clean-up", YahooNews, 2006-08-18. </ref>
A four-man team from the U.S. Guard has arrived on 23 August to help in determining the exact location of the tanker...<ref name="sunstar-1" />
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