TO say that maritime disasters and oil spills are isolated occurrences in the Philippines is to state a clear understatement. These catastrophes happen almost every day, what with the vast shoreline and internal waters, seas, bays, straits, rivers and lakes that comprise our geographical territory, reports Malaya Business Highlight.
About the incident
On an exceptionally unlucky day — Feb. 28, 2023 — two serious incidents happened, prompting Sen. Francis Tolentino to deliver a privilege speech in the Senate about the rampant maritime disasters in the country and how these might be remedied.
On that date, Tolentino said, roll-on roll-off vessel MV Starlite Saturn ran aground in the shallow waters of Bohol called Danajon Bank. The vessel was en route to Cebu City from a port in Surigao, and the incident caused considerable damage to the reefs.
Earlier that day, oil tanker MT Princess Empress sank off Oriental Mindoro with 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil, after it encountered engine trouble due to overheating. It then drifted towards Balingawan Point until it submerged. An oil slick alter emerged, and its has now spread over 24 square kilometers.
On Feb. 27, bulk carrier MV Manfel Carrier V ran aground in Lubang Island, Occidental Mindoro. The vessel was sailing to Bauan, Batangas from Subic, Zambales when it encountered engine trouble off Fortune Island and was hit by large waves.
On Feb. 10, cargo ship LCT Pacifica 1 capsized off Surigao del Norte while traversing the waters between Hinatuan and Bucas Grande islands.
The oil spill has so far affected nine towns in Oriental Mindoro — Naujan, Pola, Pinamalayan, Gloria, Basud, Bongabong, Roxas, Mansalay and Bulacacao, and has reached as far as Antique and Palawan.
This one incident will have far-reaching negative consequences in the livelihood of fisherfolk and farmers in Mindoro and nearby islands, with fish and other marine products contaminated, their feeding grounds and mangroves devastated and ecological recovery long and uncertain. In the province of Oriental Mindoro alone, there are 18,000 registered fishermen whose families are facing hunger because of the oil spill.
An oil spill of this magnitude, Tolentino said, was last experienced in 2006 when M/T Solar 1, carrying 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel. sank off the coast of Guimaras. The spill affected 1,500 hectares of the local ecosystem consisting of mangroves, seagrass, and coral reefs.
Under Executive Order No. 125, as amended, MARINA is mandated to undertake safety regulatory functions pertaining to vessel operations while under Republic Act No. 9993, or the Philippine Coast Guard Law of 2009, the Philippine Coast Guard is mandated to enforce all maritime laws.
The question is, Tolentino said, were LCT Pacifica 1, MV Manfel Carrier V, MV Starlite Saturn, and MT Princess Empress found to be seaworthy by the regulatory agencies? Some of these accidents are preventable, he pointed out, if only the authorities were doing their job well.
It is sad that it took the DENR a couple of days to identify where exactly the sunken vessel was, and retrieval of dirty oil and flotsam was painstakingly slow.
While accidents do happen and with a vast archipelagic country that we have that necessitates maritime travel, the government should by now possess equipment, expertise and personnel to serve as first responders in cases of oil slicks caused by sunken cargo vessels.
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Source: Malaya Business Highlights