Philippines Battles Major Oil Spill, Fishermen Suffer
LAPAZ, Philippines 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 spill.
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)