.5 million liters of fuel carpet over 300-sq-km area
A DIESEL oil spill spread a large reddish stain over Manila Bay Friday, posing potential health and environmental hazards, authorities said.
A fuel tanker is suspected of having dumped half a million liters of diesel into the country’s busiest waterway on Thursday, said Coast Guard environmental protection chief Commodore Joel Garcia.
“I cannot say that we have contained it because it has affected so wide an area,” he told reporters. “There have been reports of cases of people going to hospital from difficulty of breathing due to the fumes coming from this oil.”
Initial reports said at least 12 villages in Rosario town have already been affected by the oil spill.
Garcia said based on the Coast Guard’s aerial surveillance, the spill affected shorelines from Rosario going to Naic, Tanza and Ternate, Cavite.
He added that the livelihood of some 10,000 fishermen in four Cavite towns would be hurt by the oil spill.
Oil containment booms were deployed while government experts are checking the impact on marine life, Garcia said.
The 300-square-kilometer slick was drifting toward the mouth of the bay Friday, Garcia said.
About 20 kilometers of coastline near Manila has been affected, he added.
Asis Perez, head of the fisheries and aquatic resources bureau, said he has banned the harvesting and sale of shellfish from these areas until further notice.
“Fuel should not be ingested by people,” Perez said in an interview over radio station dzBB.
Garcia said the Coast Guard decided not to use chemical dispersants as they would poison the water, opting to let the fuel evaporate. He could not say how long this would take.
The 34,000-barrel-capacity M/T Makisig and its crew have been detained and its owners will be made to pay for the clean-up if it is proven that it indeed had caused the spill, he added.
Additionally, the crew could face criminal charges unless there were “mitigating circumstances” that led to the release of the fuel into the water.
“Fuel samples taken from the shoreline and from the ship are quite identical,” he said.
The tanker’s owners, Herma Shipping and Transport Corp, could not be reached for comment on Friday.
The tanker had earlier unloaded fuel at a Petron terminal in the town of Rosario near Manila, the oil refiner said in a statement.
“According to initial information, the leak may have come from the vessel but this will have to be investigated further,” it said in a statement, adding its pipeline was intact.
“Diesel is not a persistent oil and will easily disperse, so there is no danger to the environment and the local community,” it added.
Petron said that as of Friday afternoon, there were minimal traces of sheen in the waters off Rosario and Tanza.
On Thursday, the company observed an oily sheen near the M/T Makisig, which just finished discharging diesel at its Rosario terminal in Cavite.
“We immediately deployed our oil spill response team to see the extent of the oily sheen and begin containment and recovery operations of what we suspect is diesel. We have also notified the local government of Rosario and the Philippine Coast Guard,” Petron said.
“We likewise tested our receiving pipeline for possible leaks as soon as we observed the oily sheen. Test results show that the pipeline is intact and has no leaks,” it said.
“We are also conducting our own investigation to see how this happened and to prevent such an occurrence from happening again,” Petron said.
In August 2006, the oil tanker M/T Solar 1 carrying more than 2 million liters of bunker fuel for Petron sank off the coast of Guimaras and Negros Island, causing what is considered the worst oil spill in the Philippines.
The Coast Guard said it is considering filing a criminal case against Petron and the owner of the tanker
“If look at the Republic Act 9275, the Clean Water Act and Presidential Decree 979, the Marine Pollution Law, (there is) a criminal liability,” the Coast Guard’s Garcia said.
He said they could also file obstruction of justice charges against Petron and the tanker owners because they would not allow Coast Guard personnel to take water samples after the spill.
Aside from the criminal liability, the respondents must also pay to clean up operation from P500,000 to P3 million per day, Garcia added.
The Palace had no statement on the oil spill, with a presidential spokeswoman merely assuring the public that there would be proper coordination among government agencies concerned
Local government officials declared Rosario town in Cavite under a state of calamity following an oil spill, which affected nine villages and at least three other towns in the province.
Jose Ricafrente, mayor of Rosario, said the state of calamity would prevent the hoarding of goods or the jacking up of prices for basic food and other commodities in the area.
The Energy Department appealed to the local government of Rosario to monitor where the diesel was going, and warned motorists to report any illegal selling of diesel by the bottle. With Alena Mae Flores, Maricel V. Cruz, AFP