Probers recall initial findings as leak source remains a mystery
AFTER initially claiming that a tanker caused the oil spill in Manila Bay, the authorities said on Saturday they are no longer sure the tanker was responsible for leaking 500,000 liters of diesel fuel in the busiest waterway in the country.
After the spill. Village folk help collect diesel fuel from the shore of Rosario town in Cavite on Saturday as female residents wear face masks against the foul odor from the oil spill in Manila Bay. Probers still do not known the source of the leak. DANNY PATA
The Coast Guard announced their inconclusive findings as President Benigno Aquino III ordered concerned government agencies to first focus on cleaning up and recovering the fuel that caused a reddish sheen on 300 square kilometers of the 2,000 sq km bay.
“There was diving operations this morning [Saturday] but still they didn’t know exactly where the leak is,” said Coast Guard chief information officer Cdr. Armand Balilo.
Authorities are hastening its clean-up of an oil spill to stop it from spreading, two days after a suspected pipeline leaked some 500,000 fuel affecting.
The spill has affected 31 fishing villages in the Cavite towns of Rosario, Naic, Tanza and Ternate, but authorities are still assessing the impact of the spill and the interventions that may be needed.
“The instruction is to focus on the clean up operations,” said Balilo, adding that additional teams from the Marine Environmental Protection Unit were deployed to the affected areas.
The President wants government agencies to step up recovery and clean up efforts to minimize any impact on coastal communities.
“The directive is to make sure that we focus on the recovery and clean-up operations because many villages will be affected,” Deputy Presidential Spokeswoman Abigail Valte said in a radio interview over dzRB Radyo ng Bayan.
Balilo said representatives from Petron Corp., the presumed owner of the spilled diesel fuel, and its contractor Herma Shipping Transpo, owner of the oil tanker were helping local government units in cleaning up the spill.
The Coast Guard and Petron sent a six by six truck and three tugboats to use in the clean up operation.
“Local government and barangay officials also hired people to remove and collect oil under the supervision of Marine Environmental Protection Command for safety and where to dump the collected oil. They were provided with gas masks and gloves for protection,” Balilo said.
Balilo said technical divers from Herma Shipping and Petron will join the Coast Guard to locate the leak while Coast Guard commandant Rodolfo Isorena ordered the agency’s National Capital Region Office to form an adjudication body that will investigate the incident.
“The adjudication body will lead the investigation. The recovery operations will be done by another team while cleanup operations will be supervised by the adjudication body. It will be composed of personnel from Marine Protection Command, Coast Guard NCR office,” Balilo said.
He added the probe team is tasked to find out where the leak came from and to study all the possible violations, then file appropriate charges against those responsible.
Coast Guard environmental protection chief Commodore Joel Garcia said on Friday that fuel samples taken from the shoreline and from the ship “are quite identical.”
But Balilo said Garcia’s remarks will be referred as adjudication board for them to study along with representatives of Petron and the ship owner.
The environment department and other agencies will conduct the assessment to help determine further interventions needed and sanctions on parties responsible for the incident.
“We’re coordinating with agencies like Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to ascertain the spill’s comprehensive impact,” said environment department regional official Reynulfo Juan.
Juan said reports show the oil spill already affected 10 villages in Tanza municipality and seven others in Rosario municipality, jeopardizing public health, livelihood and the environment there.
The department is also investigating any possible oil spill contamination in mangroves located in Naic town, Juan added.
Juan isn’t discounting the possibility of government suspending Petron’s operations in Rosario if investigation proves this company is the oil spill’s source.
“We say there was no leak at our end,” Petron corporate affairs head Charmaine Canillas said, adding the oil company monitored no leak in its pipeline as shown by pressure tests. “We’re trying to ascertain source of the oil spill as there are many possibilities.”
Meanwhile, Petron said the oil spill seems to be under control as the oil sheen over the affected area was “barely visible.”
“This morning [Saturday], the oil sheen was barely visible. [Cavite] Governor [Jonvic] Remulla also inspected the shoreline near the receiving facility of the Rosario depot and found minimal oil sheen, indicating that the situation is under control,” it said. With Maricel V. Cruz