Groups warn of ‘long-term impact’ of Mindoro oil spill catastrophe

0
3

Participants of an online forum organized by international environmental groups Greenpeace and Oceana Philippines on Thursday expressed grave concern over the “long-term environmental, social, economic, and health impact” of the Mindoro oil spill.

Paul Horsman, Greenpeace Strategic Advisor, said oil spills like the Guimaras oil spill in 2006 and elsewhere around the world, have long-term impacts on the environment, including the biodiversity in affected ecosystems.

Oil spills can sometimes be felt even 30 years after the tragedy, causing irreparable damage to corals, seagrass, and mangroves.

Greenpeace responds to oil spills around the world and has witnessed its long-term impacts.

“We are trying to campaign for the phase out of oil, gas and coal,” Horsman said in a pre-recorded video message.

“Oil spills are dangerous to marine life and the environment. We are dealing here with highly toxic material that is normally buried underground,” he explained.

According to Horsman, the chemical makeup of oil cause cancers, direct poisoning, and physical effects on animals. He said in the past, thousands of thousands of birds die as a result of the impact of oil.

“It has a lasting effect on the environment. What you don’t see is the longer effect of an oil spill,” he said, adding that even after cleanups, oil remains in the environment and could hardly be really removed.

“The biggest mistake by government, authorities, and corporations in responding to an oil spill is they undermine or understate the potential impact. The fact is, they will have a long-term impact. The corporations are trying to undermine the oil spill,” Horsman pointed out.

Prevention

What the government and the private sector can do against oil spills is prevent them from happening, or if they do, contain them from spreading and prevent them from reaching the shores, he said.

Horsman said the one thing that the government and other stakeholders responding to an oil spill can do is by removing the oil safely. “But you can’t clean it up. You have oily waste that has to be dealt with,” he said.

Where’s the boat?

Ram Joseph Temeña, Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (PDRRMO) chief of Oriental Mindoro, which is severely affected by the sinking of MV Princess Empress off the shores of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro on February 28, said until now, authorities have yet to pinpoint the exact location of the ill-fated vessel.

It was reported to be carrying 800,000 liters of oil that began to ooze out from the sunken vessel and started to spread to coastal towns nearby.

So far, he said out of the 15 municipalities of Oriental Mindoro, nine municipalities are now affected by the oil spill.

“We have 65 barangays affected. The town of Pola is the worse affected.  We have sightings of oil spill in the shoreline already. Eleven barangays reported that the oil spill reached the shores already,” Temeña said.

He added that fisherfolk from the province’s 111 barangays in the affected towns are also affected as they are prevented from fishing activities.

So far, Temeña said, a total of 19,556 families in Oriental Mindoro alone are affected and belong to coastal communities from the towns of Naujan all the way to Bulalakaw.

He added that based on reports received by the PDRRMO, of the total of 29 marine protected areas or MPAs, 13 are already affected, covering a total of 2,743 hectares.

In terms of its health impact, Temeña said 18 persons in the town of Pola have reported suffering from nausea and vomiting, particularly from the Buhay na Tubig, one of the barangays severely affected by the oil spill.

“We have an incident command post in Pola to help the town manage the disaster situation. Right now, the sea condition is preventing us from reaching affected barangays. Some are barangays not reachable as they are accessible only by small boats and single motorcycles,” he said.

Temeña said the sea conditions remain “bad” preventing the PDRRMO, including the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and other volunteers from conducting oil cleanup operations.

So far, he said a total of 21.5 drums of oil and oil debris were collected in three barangays in Pola.

“We are really trying to contain this since March 1.  Our governor is hands-on and is working with various agencies, particularly the PCG, which is taking the lead in addressing the disaster,” he said, adding that the DENR is also helping out and is conducting water sampling to collect data from the shorelines.

PCG response

PCG Commodore Fidelles D. Salidao said in response to the oil spill, offshore and onshore cleanup is being conducted.

He said manual scooping is being done onshore to put the oil in containers and bring them to Calapan, Oriental Mindoro for hauling. “We collected mixture, 580 liters of oily water mixtures were collected. Why only that? It is because of the dispersal operation that we are conducting. We spray the spill [with chemical dispersants] to dilute the oil. It will disperse. Kaya iyon lang ang nakuha natin na oil,” he said in narrating PCG’s onshore response.

Offshore, he said four teams from the PCG were deployed in Pola.

“As of reporting, we have collected approximately 16.63 cubic meters of debris. Contaminated absorbent booms and pads are included in the estimated debris. The concentration that is coming out is the target of the operation,” he added.

Ivan Andres, Center for Energy, Ecology and Development coastal communities and climate program lead, said based on reports gathered by the group, 18,000 fishermen are not able to fish.

He said the impacts are not only with the fisherfolk. The team deployed on the ground reported that the “no-fishing” order affected the economy, including tourism. Around P11 billion in fisheries livelihood is estimated to be lost.

Andres said revenue loss from tourism is also expected. In 2019, he noted that revenue from tourism in the area was P3.5 billion.

He added that as of Wednesday, March 8, 43 people are already suffering from severe headaches and nausea in various parts of the province, and called on the government to look into these health occurrences.

He expressed alarm on key findings from the University of the Philippines-Marine Science institute that around 36,000 hectares of fishing could be affected by the spill.

Help

Cash aid and food packs, he said, are being released but communities are worried as to until when such help will last.

While an extensive effort should be exerted to contain the oil spill, Andres said it is equally important to address the livelihood, environmental, and health problems brought about by the oil spill, and hold those responsible accountable for the disaster.

Accountability

Atty. Liza Osorio, Legal and Policy Director at Oceana Philippines reiterated that accountability measures are in place, and government only needs to enforce them.

She said there are various laws wherein affected communities can seek legal remedy, and demand accountability from the private companies to the government who are responsible for the oil spill.

The owner of the ill fated vessel MT Princess Empress, which until now remains to be unidentified, should shoulder clean up-expenses and consequential loss for the contamination, including income, or earnings, of persons affected, including human health or loss of lives.