The Philippine Coast Guard on Tuesday appealed for help to contain a massive oil spill from a sunken tanker in Oriental Mindoro, which continued to threaten the livelihood of thousands of fishermen and the health of residents along the coasts of several provinces.
Japan and the United States, along with several private companies, expressing their willingness to extend assistance, PCG Admiral Artemio Manalo Abu said, after it held coordination meetings with various foreign embassies.
“They learned that we are calling for help. We are inviting those who want to participate to help the Filipino people to address the oil spill. Support for the cleanup operations could be in the form of human resources,” Abu said.
The spillage has reached the provinces of Antique and Palawan and could reach Romblon, the PCG said.
It might even reach the world-famous Boracay Island, warned Sen. Francis Tolentino, as he questioned how the PCG would contain or stop the spread of oil.
In a privileged speech delivered Monday night, Tolentino said the PCG is the responsible agency to control the pollution in the country’s territorial waters.
Although the PCG already created the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP), due to its lack of resources, its actions to avert the spread of oil were limited, the senator said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health on Tuesday issued guidance after several residents of Oriental Mindoro fell ill.
DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire, during a media forum, said vulnerable groups had to be relocated to a safer area.
“Among those who live within 100 meters (of the shore), the elderly and those with respiratory problems should be relocated. They should stay with relatives who live farther away,” Vergeire said.
“Those within 100 meters of the affected area cannot drink their water. They have to be supplied with safe water by the local government. Those within 100 meters cannot use just surgical masks. We should give them industrial masks,” she added.
Also, the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources sought an inquiry into the sinking of Motor Tanker (MT) Princess Empress last February 28 in the waters off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, spilling 800,000 liters of industrialized fuel.
Another vessel rescued the 20 crew members on board.
In filing House Resolution 829, Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., the panel’s chairperson, wants his committee to investigate, in aid of legislation, the oil spill which has affected 10 municipalities in Oriental Mindoro.
“Additionally, the oil spill might affect 20,000 hectares of coral reef, 9,900 hectares of mangroves, and 6,000 hectares of seagrass and could possibly coat the marine habitats and animals… which can clog the gills of fish and marine invertebrates… damage the feathers of birds and fur of marine mammals,” Barzaga said in the resolution.
Given its limited resources, the Coast Guard was approaching the issue by order of priority: disperse and recover the oil at sea, protect the shorelines, and clean up the oil if it reaches the shore.
“So, the one-month timeline being asked of us (to clear the spill), no one can tell. The earliest that we could contain and complete the operations, the better,” Abu said.
The PCG on Tuesday was set to use 6,000 liters of oil dispersant, which “should not be applied haphazardly,” he added.
“There is a consideration for us to prevent further damage to the environment. We should be really careful in addressing this incident, our approach should be scientific,” Abu said, adding that a whole-of-nation approach was necessary.
“The Coast Guard is just part of the effort. It requires the participation and involvement of everyone. Of course, the local chief executives, we are requesting them to have their full support and kind understanding,” Abu said.
On March 6, the Norwegian Training Center deployed 40 cadets in Barangay Misong in Pola, Oriental Mindoro to help with the oil spill, he noted.
Reports said at least one person was admitted to a hospital for aggravated asthma but has since been discharged, Vergeire said. Some residents have reported experiencing cramps, nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness, and headaches.
Vergeire said most symptoms exhibited by residents were resolved within 3 hours.
Diesel fuel, which had been powering the tanker, and some of the cargo have leaked into the sea, the coast guard said previously, sparking concern for the environment and industries dependent on the ocean.
Around 70 coastal villages from nine municipalities in Oriental Mindoro that are affected by the oil spill are now under a state of calamity.
The MT Princess Empress is an oil products tanker which is only a year old before it sank.
Oceana, an international environmental group, earlier called on the government “to immediately implement mechanisms and actions to stop further damage on the marine environment, fisheries resources and livelihood in the affected Verde Island Passage, which is the ‘centerof marine biodiversity in the world.’”
It also asked the government to “start the investigation and testing on the extent of contamination… immediate assistance of the local fisherfolk dependent on the affected body of water.”
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) announced last Monday that it has found the possible site of the capsized vessel, which is about 1,200 feet below sea level.
This was a few days after the DENR deployed the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) BRP Hydrographer Venturawithin the area of the oil spill site.
The DENR said the MT is located about northeast of Pola, Oriental Mindoro but it is “believed to have moved southeast from its last known position where it completely submerged.”
The environment department however said it still needs to verify the location by deploying a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) “which willallow us to complete visualization should the currents and weather permit.”
“We are now preparing to access an ROV in order to fully determine where the vessel actually is and to completely model the way the oil will be spilling from the vessel,” the DENR said in a statement.