Mindanao coast guard can’t respond to Guimaras-type of oil spills

"We have the capacity, but it is not enough in case of an accident with the magnitude of that near Guimaras Island on August 11," Commodore Edmund Tan, district commander  told reporters Monday in a press conference on board a search and rescue vessel.

Tan blamed the situation on the Coast Guard’s meager budget. He said the Coast Guard proposed a P5 billion budget but operates on a P1.2 billion allocation.

Tan said at least 10 bunker oil ships ply the Davao Gulf every month and they have "closely watched their operations." He said in case of accidents, they have asked the oil companies to help them.

But Tan said local oil shipment like Solar 1, not international oil ships, pose greater danger to Philippine maritime safety. The riskiest route is along the Palawan waters, he said. Solar 1, which was chartered by Petron, the country’s largest oil refinery, was on course in shipping oil from Batangas to Zamboanga when it sank off the island, Tan said.

The Guimaras oil spill followed another bunker oil spillage in Semirara Island in Antique, still in Western Visayas, in November 2005.

The coast guard considers 10,000 liters as a major oil spill, Tan said. The two-million liter oil spill from Solar 1 is a "a very big task that needs international assistance,” he said.

Tan said they are sending two container vans of inflatable booms, oil dispersant sprayer arm and two personnel to help in containing the spill.

Coast  Guard spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Coyme, told reporters earlier this week that the Philippines has no capability right now to save a sunken vessel around 3,000 feet underwater.

Tan said the government needs the services of mechanized technology from abroad like robots to drill the oil from the tanker and siphon it out of the sea.

The government sought help from Malaysia and Indonesia for equipment and specialist teams.

Tan said international-recognized laws require the spiller firm to pay for damages caused by the oil spillage.

International environment group Greenpeace issued a statement earlier that Petron Corp. and its partners must be held accountable for the rehabilitation of the damaged ecosystems. At least 40,000 residents have been affected by the spill, Greenpeace said, as it urged shipping companies to operate under the highest standards to prevent new oil spills.

According to the provincial government of Guimaras, the oil spill has affected at least 200 kilometers of coastline, damaging mangrove swamps, seaweed plantations and coral reefs.

In a statement, Greenpeace said relief operations must continue to help the people of Guimaras.

"Petron must also compensate villages for loss of their livelihood, and set up plans to give these communities long-term livelihoods. It appears now that Petron is just making them janitors for the oil spill,”  it said.

Greenpeace urged the government to conduct wider impacts assessment work, which must include all affected areas in Guimaras, Iloilo and Negros.

The government must also hold Petron accountable, Greenpeace said, for the long-term rehabilitation of the affected marine sanctuaries, mangrove areas, reefs and coastal ecosystems.

"The impacts of this oil spill on the environment will linger for years, even decades. The government must learn from this disaster and put in place policies that protect the marine environment and millions of Filipinos who rely on them for food and livelihood," the Greenpeace statement said. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)