Marine experts tapped for rehab of Sarangani reef

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/25 January) – The Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) of Sarangani province has tapped marine experts at the Mindanao State University (MSU) here to spearhead the rehabilitation and restoration of a critical reef along the Sarangani Bay that was rummaged by a foreign cargo vessel in May last year.

Prof. Concepcion Portugal, former dean of the MSU College of Fisheries here, said the PAMB assigned the college to draw out the plans and implementation mechanisms for the rehabilitation of the Bacud Reef, a portion of which was damaged following the grounding in the area for over a month last year of Panamanian-registered vessel M/V Double Prosperity.

She said the board initially set an annual funding of P2 million for the reef’s rehabilitation, which was projected to last for 10 years.

“We’ve done extensive research and studies on marine resources at the Sarangani Bay and we’ll mainly utilize them for the rehabilitation works,” Portugal said in an interview with a local television station.

Aside from the college’s marine biology and fishery experts, she said they will tap their students to assist in the reef’s rehabilitation, which would involve the installation of artificial reef domes and coral transplantation.

Ariel Ortiz, MSU College of Fisheries’ marine biology department head, said they were only waiting for the signing of a formal agreement with PAMB or the local government of Sarangani so they could begin the reef’s rehabilitation works.

But he cited that they initially reviewed some completed studies on the rehabilitation and restoration of Sarangani Bay’s marine resources that may be used for the project.

“We will come up with the details of the rehabilitation work once an official or formal agreement (with PAMB-Sarangani) is made,” he told MindaNews.

Bacud is an offshore reef situated seven kilometers off Kiamba town in Sarangani and covers an area of approximately 141,466 m2. It is one of the few sites in the Philippines where the endangered Mameng lives.

The area falls under NIPAS (National Integrated Protected Area System) through Presidential Proclamation Number 756 promulgated in 1996.

Marine experts had estimated that around 8,000 square meters of the Bacud Reef were damaged after bulk carrier M/V Double Prosperity, which measures 225 meters long and 32 meters wide, ran aground in the area on May 8 last year. Marine salvors managed to refloat the vessel after five weeks of operations.

The vessel, which was carrying 65,900 metric tons of coal, originated from Australia and was en route to India when it ran into the reef.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources earlier pegged the amount of compensation for the damages on the Bacud Reef at P42 million. Represented by the provincial government, PAMB-Sarangani filed damage claims against the vessel’s owner Yano Kaiun Co. Ltd. of Japan before the Philippine Coast Guard’s Special Board of Marine Inquiry.

But the management board later agreed to an out-of-court settlement with the vessel’s owners for a total compensation package of P20 million.

Lawyer Arnel Zapatos, Sarangani legal officer, said in a statement that the compensation package “constitutes the P10 million representing the actual valuation of experts for the actual damage, and additional P10 million allotted for the rehabilitation of the damaged reef.”

He said the use of the out-of-court settlement or alternative dispute resolution mechanism under RA 9285 or the Alternative Dispute Resolution Act of 2004 as the main legal strategy hastened the compensation of damages from the offending vessel.

“This case was first of its kind successfully prosecuted by (PAMB-Sarangani), and duly acknowledged by the DENR as the first anywhere in the Philippines. This is also the first case that had triumphantly taken compensation against a foreign merchant vessel, not doing business in the Philippines. This is also the first case of the largest foreign merchant vessel which ran aground in the area of Mindanao and the Visayas, which was successfully arrested by the Philippine Coast Guard using its protective authority on the environment,” he noted.

Zapatos added that PAMB-Sarangani signified to utilize the settlement payments to fund the rehabilitation works that would be undertaken by MSU’s College of Fisheries on the Bacud Reef. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)