August 24, 2006

Philippines Asks for Hair, Feathers to Soak Oil Spill

By Leo Solinap

CONCEPCION, Philippines -- The Philippine Coast Guard appealed on Thursday for chicken feathers and human hair to help sponge up the country's worst oil spill.

A tanker chartered by refiner Petron Corp. sank in heavy seas on August 11, oozing about a 10th of its 2 million liter cargo of industrial fuel off the central island of Guimaras, affecting 40,000 people and 200 km (120 miles) of coastline.

Petron, in which the Philippine government and Saudi state oil firm Saudi Aramco each have a 40 percent stake, said a fresh spill was spotted late on Wednesday.

"We are appealing for the supply of indigenous absorbent materials like chicken feathers, human hair and rice straw," Harold Jarder, head of the Coast Guard in Iloilo, a province north of Guimaras, told Reuters.

Jarder said San Miguel Corp., Southeast Asia's largest food and beverage conglomerate, promised to donate one tonne of chicken feathers a day from its plants in Iloilo and nearby Bacolod City.

Officials at San Miguel, the Philippines largest seller of poultry products, confirmed the plan but said details were still being worked out.

Les Reyes, owner of one of the country's largest hairdressing chains, said his 200 shops had started collecting hair clippings on Tuesday.

"This is in response to the call of Greenpeace," Reyes said, adding he had also asked other salons to donate hair to the Coast Guard.

Jarder said chicken feathers and human hair will be placed in sacks tied to bamboo poles and placed along the coastlines of affected villages.

Some communities in Guimaras are already using rice straw in sacks to try to contain the spill, which has affected 27 coastal villages and a marine reserve and is spreading in a northeast direction toward the islands of Negros, Cebu and Masbate.

In Concepcion town in Iloilo, residents said they were taking pre-emptive action before the floating bunker oil could hurt their livelihood.

"Operators of fish pens and ponds not hit by the oil spill were forced to harvest fish," town mayor Raul Banias said.

Petron said it was employing 869 people per day in Guimaras, paying them 200 pesos each, to clean the beaches and mangrove trees of the black sludge.

"We are doing everything humanly possible to assist those affected," Nicasio Alcantara, chairman of Petron, told a news conference.

Petron said the owner of the 998-tonne tanker, local firm Sunshine Maritime Development Corp., has an insurance cover of up to $6.7 million to cover this sort of accident.

If the insurance cover is not enough, Petron and the owner of the tanker can tap up to $301 million from the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund.

Oil companies worldwide contribute to the fund to cover oil spills, Mario Lucas, executive director at Petron, said.