COMMENTARY: Philippine reef incident: A ticking time bomb

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (08 June) — Desperate times call for desperate moves.

It has been exactly a month to this day since MV Double Prosperity ran aground in the 5-hectare Bacud Reef.  It has not been pulled out despite efforts by a salvage firm to float the 76,000 GT bulk cargo ship.

With the southeasterly winds already starting to blow hard, the ship’s continued presence is posing greater danger as the days go by.

The seas off the coast of Kiamba are particularly rough during this time of the year and a maritime disaster is waiting to explode under the very eyes of Kiamba residents who could view clearly the stranded ship roughly five kilometers from their town plaza.

Loaded with coal from Australia, the vessel has already damaged the fragile reef which has been serving as a rich fishing ground for municipal fishermen.

Estimates of the damage to the reef have varied but the exact toll of what the wayward ship did cannot be quantified until marine biologists can fully assess the situation.  But they can only do so if the ship is pulled out.

Three tug boats have been trying to pull out the ship for weeks now but have so far failed.

It now looks like the vessel cannot be extricated from the reef without deploying floaters similar to those used in floating sunken ships.

Or it will have to unload all its coal cargo and transfer it to another vessel.

Both measures will be costly but not as costly as the incident’s potential irreversible environmental disaster.

The reef is spawning and feeding ground to many exotic and valuable marine species. The endangered Napoleon Wrass is said to be frequently sighted in the reef.

Malayan Salvor, the Filipino firm hired by the ship’s owner to do the tedious task of salvaging the vessel, has a shrinking window of success left and the clock is ticking.

The integrity of the ship’s underbelly can only remain intact for so long.  It won’t last forever.

Philippine authorities must put pressure on the ship’s owner to expedite the salvage efforts. Short of outright seizing and impounding all assets of Tanagra Shipping, SA, the ship’s registered owner, in the Philippines, the company must be required to deposit sizeable funds in escrow that will carry penalties for every target day missed from here on.

Desperate times need desperate measures. (Edwin G. Espejo writes for www.asiancorrespondent.com)

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