August 16, 2006

Philippines battles major oil spill, fishermen suffer

By Dolly Aglay

LAPAZ, Philippines (Reuters) - Rescue workers battled on
Wednesday to stop a huge oil spill from further polluting the
central Philippine coastline as fishermen, smeared in the
foul-smelling sludge, returned to shore with empty nets.

"This is a major disaster. The natural marine sanctuary is
destroyed. Tourism is greatly affected," Geary Barias, police
director in the western Visayas region, told Reuters.

Fishing grounds, dive spots and a national marine reserve
were contaminated and the livelihood of thousands of people
threatened after a tanker carrying 2 million litres of bunker
fuel sank off the coast of central Guimaras island on Friday.

The provincial government has declared the tropical resort
island a disaster zone and officials have warned that the
spill, the largest to afflict the Southeast Asian country,
could take three years to clear.

"It is very hard to recover the oil and the danger of the
oil still coming out remains," Philippine Coast Guard chief,
Vice-Admiral Arthur Gosingan, told a news conference.

Officials have estimated that about 200,000 litres of fuel
seeped from the submerged tanker, chartered by the Philippine'
largest refiner Petron, producing a 20 nautical mile wide oil

Some families have been moved away from the shores of
Guimaras, about 470 kilometres (290 miles) south of Manila, as
the industrial fuel, reeking of newly-cooked asphalt, washed up
on beaches, staining sand and nearby trees.

"We plan to leave this place temporarily because I cannot
breathe," said 81-year-old Emiliano Tenaflor.

Others remained behind to try to dam the thick, greasy
liquid, using wood, bamboo, oil drums and tyres.


"We spent two hours at sea and this is what we got," said
Mike Galimba, 30, pointing to five small fish in his
oil-smeared boat.

Many others came back to shore with nothing after hours
combing the contaminated waters.

Guimaras Governor Joaquin Carlos Nava told a local radio
station that the livelihood of around 10,000 people, mostly
fishermen, had been hit by the disaster.

Health officials warned locals not to eat anything from the
contaminated waters but some people, dependent on the sea for
food, ignored the advice.

"We wash the fish many times," said one woman.

The Taklong island national marine reserve, located on the
southern tip of Guimaras island, was also hit by the oil slick,
jeopardising its rich stock of marine life, coral reefs, sea
grass beds and dense forests of mangroves.

"Oil by nature contains, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, they
are persistent, they remain in the environment for sometime. It
could kill planktons, fish larvae, reefs," Von Hernandez,
Southeast Asia campaign director for Greenpeace, said

"The damage is being done even as we speak."

(Additional reporting by Karen Lema in Manila)