Catanduanes authorities caution residents vs eating fish from site of sunken cargo vessel

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MV Sun Spirits. Contributed Photo
MV Sun Spirits. Contributed Photo

LEGAZPI CITY (9-Feb-12/PNA) – Fearing marine pollution that could be caused by an oil spill, local authorities in the island province of Catanduanes have cautioned residents from eating fish caught in the fishing ground covering the nearby area where a cargo ship sank over two weeks ago.

M/V Sun Spirits, a Japanese-owned but Panamian-registered 10,400-gross ton cargo vessel sank in over a kilometer-deep waters off Baras, Catanduanes last January 22, two days after it left McArthur, Leyte loaded with over 9,900 metric tons of iron ore or magnetite sand.

It reportedly sank after losing stability when its sand cargo accumulated heavy rain waters and slid to its port side.

Also loaded with about 290,000 liters of bunker oil for its voyage to China, the vessel’s last reported location was at 13 degrees, 25 minutes north latitude and 124 degrees, 47.7 minutes east longitude in the Pacific Ocean.

All its crew—12 Indonesians and two Koreans including ship captain Park Cheol Eon were rescued by local fishermen and by a passing ship from Cebu after 12 hours at sea on lifeboats.

Following the incident, the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) received reports on suspected oil spill from several fishermen in some coastal barangays in Virac, Bato, Baras and Cabugao towns whose fishing ground covers the site of the sinking. The fishermen said their fishing lines, nets and boat hulls got coated with oil.

The fishermen also reported sightings of blackish globs on the sea, according to PENRO officer Jose Borja in a report to the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) headed by Catanduanes Gov. Joseph Cua.

Alarmed on receiving the report several days after the ship sinking, Cua told the PNA over the telephone on Thursday that he promptly convened the Council and activated all its counterparts in both the municipal and barangay levels in areas near the reported oil spill and prepare for a possible marine pollution disaster.

They were advised to prepare temporary measures in containing the slick using coconut husks, rice hulls, abaca fiber and dried banana leaves while the Provincial Health Office (PHO) advised local government authorities to warn their constituents from eating fish from the alleged oil spill site, the governor said.

Monitoring of fish catch was also put in place by the provincial office of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) while the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had requested its regional office for reagents to be used in testing the quality of water.

A team was also formed by Cua to prepare local folks in taking precautionary measures against the spill while the marine pollution response crew was organized by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to take charge of the containment, dispersal or disposal as well as cleansing of affected areas once the need arises.

The cargo ship M/V Fernando of the Cua Group of Companies owned by the family of the governor was also placed on a standby for use in ferrying the PCG’s oil spill booms, sacks of rice hulls, a rubber boat and a speedboat for use in containing the reported oil spill once it is located.

After putting in place all these preparations and precautionary measures, the governor said the 10-man marine pollution team together with some action men from the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) accompanied by four of the fishermen who reported the suspected oil spill on January 29 sailed for a seaborne mission to locate the site.

They failed to find any sign of an oil slick on that first outing, “so we requested the PCG to use a Britten-Norman Islander plane to fly over the area but bad weather near the island prevented the flight which could have helped estimate the size and precise location of the slick,” Cua said.

Another seaborne mission was mounted on the next day which covered a wider area around the vicinity where the ship sank 38 nautical miles east southeast of this capital town but just the same, no oil was found.

Following these two search missions, Cua said he called off the next plans as all the areas where the search could be conducted have already been covered with no positive results.

The fishermen who preferred to stay on shore following the reported oil slick were already advised to go back to the sea but with instructions to remain vigilant.

The precautions from eating fish from the area however stays until further advice ascertaining that no oil spill would not be possible even as the M/VSun Spirits ship captain has assured the PCG that its fuel tanks were properly sealed before they abandoned ship on January 21 when their vessel began listing inexorably, Cua said. (PNA)

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