PCG seeking US help in oil spill cleanup    

Robertzon Ramirez, Ghio Ong - The Philippine Star
PCG seeking US help in oil spill cleanup      
A member of the Coast Guard inspection team walks with a resident as they examine an oil slick on the shores of Barangay Casian, an island village in Taytay, Palawan the other day. The oil slick is likely from the industrial oil spilled by the sunken tanker MT Princess Empress. Barangay Casian is 159 nautical miles or 295 kilometers away from Naujan in Oriental Mindoro, where the tanker carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil sank in rough seas on Feb. 28.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines has formalized its request for help from the United States in containing and cleaning up the oil spill coming from a sunken oil tanker off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro. “I’ve sent a letter to the embassy of the United States… that we need help,” Philippine Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Artemio Abu said at a news forum in Quezon City yesterday.

While describing the content of the letter as “generic,” Abu said it expressed the Philippines’ wish to receive any kind of help from the US government in addressing the oil spill problem.

“Whatever help they can give us, response equipment, everything. Whatever they’re capable of giving us – they know what’s needed at this time,” the PCG chief said in English and Filipino.

“They have more experience and knowledge on this issue. It’s just a matter of making known to them that we are asking assistance from them,” he added.

He said the oil spill from MT Princess Empress, which sank on Feb. 28, has already reached 70 kilometers in the direction of Caluya Island in Antique.

“If we’re talking about distance, it’s 70 kilometers from the sinking site, going to Antique in Caluya Island. It’s the farthest it has gone so far,” he said at the news forum.

MT Princess Empress was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil when it sank. Its 20 crewmembers were unharmed.

Abu said their “order of priority” is to determine the source of the spill, contain and disperse it, protect shorelines at risk and cleanup and recovery of “oiled debris.”

He said they have yet to receive information on the source of the oil spill.

“At the moment we can’t tell yet the percentage (of spillage contained) because we’re not sure how much of the oil cargo has spilled out,” he said in Filipino.

He added the arrival of necessary equipment would help them get a better picture of the problem.

He said the Naujan oil spill problem is in “Tier Two” of PCG’s National Oil Spill Contingency Plan, meaning it is still manageable.

Any help from the international community, he stressed, would be welcome.

Abu said the Japanese government has sent a team to help the PCG contain the oil spill. He added that representatives from other countries are set to meet with the PCG tomorrow to discuss extending assistance. He did not give details.

Asked if the Chinese have offered to help, he said “there is no offer yet from them.”

He emphasized that the Philippines will not turn down any offer of assistance. “Who are we to decline offer of help?”

Boracay at risk

Meanwhile, the Department of Tourism (DOT) has warned that the oil spill in Mindoro might reach Boracay.

In a statement last Friday, the DOT said the local government of Malay in Aklan, which hosts the world renowned Boracay, “is already preparing for the possibility of the effects of the oil spill reaching its area of jurisdiction.”

“The PCG and the Malay Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office are continuously conducting roving and monitoring along the coasts of Boracay and have prepositioned oil slick booms in strategic areas around the island in anticipation of the oil spills,” the DOT said.

The DOT’s Western Visayas regional office has also gotten in touch with the Malay local government for the possibility of “extending assistance to tourists in Boracay in case the spillage reaches the island’s coastal area.”

The DOT reported the most affected by the oil spill were areas in Pola town, Oriental Mindoro, site of marine protected areas and several beach resorts.

“Based on the information gathered by the DOT, the oil spill has intruded several Marine Protected Areas in the municipality of Pola in Oriental Mindoro, such as the KingFisher Reserve, St. John the Baptist Marine Sanctuary, Song of the Sea Fish Sanctuary, Stella Mariz Fish Sanctuary, Bacawan Fish Sanctuary, St. Peter the Rock Fish Sanctuary and the San Isidro Labrador Fish Sanctuary,” the DOT said.

It added that resorts – namely the Bihiya Beach, 3 Cottage, Long Beach K. I, Aguada Beach Resort, Oloroso Beach Resort, Munting Buhangin Tagumpay Beach Resort and Buhay na Tubig White Beach Resort – have been affected.

The department noted that coastal cleanup efforts were being undertaken in the areas to mitigate the effects of the oil spill on coastal communities and marine life.

Cleanup drives were also held in Caluya town in Antique, particularly the shorelines of Sitio Sabang, Barangay Tinogbo, Liwagao Island, Barangay Sibolo and Sitio Tambak in Barangay Semirara.

The DOT is also coordinating with the Tubbataha Management Office in Cagayancillo town, Palawan to prepare measures in case the oil spill reaches the Tubbataha Reef, a world-famous diving destination.

“The DOT notes with seriousness the oil spill incident and its grave impact on the tourism industry, including disruptions in the livelihood of the affected communities, tourism-dependent businesses and recreational activities,” DOT Secretary Christina Garcia-Frasco said.

She revealed that 34 cruise ships were expected to dock in Mindoro, Romblon, Marinduque and Palawan this year.

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