Stench of Fuel Hangs over Philippine Marine Park
TAKLONG ISLAND, Philippines The waters of the Taklong marine reserve in the central Philippines glisten in the sunlight but stink of fuel as thick sludge washes ashore.
As disaster workers and residents of nearby villages tried again on Thursday to contain last week's oil spill from a sunken tanker off the island of Guimaras, worries were growing about the impact on fish, plants, people and tourism in the area.
"My fear is all the mangrove trees will die," Joseph Gajo, a caretaker at the 1,143-hectare marine reserve (2,857 acres), told Reuters. "If the mangroves and coral die, this will affect fishermen."
The mangroves, coral reefs and seagrass beds of Taklong, on the southern tip of Guimaras island, serve as a feeding and nursery ground for 144 species of fish and other sea creatures.
Along the coastline, men were putting up nets to try to keep the spill from washing ashore. In another area, rubber boats were being used as barriers.
The provincial government declared Guimaras a disaster zone after the spill of about 200,000 litres of bunker oil on Friday.
Chartered by Petron Corp., the largest oil refiner in the Philippines, the tanker was carrying about 2 million litres of the industrial fuel when it sank in rough seas.
Officials have warned that the pollution could take three years to clean up, with more than 15,000 people and 200 km (120 miles) of coastline affected.
"We have no catch, we are leaving now. We can't stand the smell of bunker oil," one of two fisherman shouted as they paddled a small boat near the marine reserve.
MORE OIL IN SHIP
The spill of about 200 tonnes of oil is the worst to hit the Philippines but pales against the world's biggest accident, the 1979 collision between the Atlantic Empress and another vessel that leaked 287,000 tonnes into the sea off Tobago.
Still, Philippine officials fear a wider disaster if the estimated 1,800 tonnes still inside the sunken tanker seep out.
"The ship is divided into 10 tanks. Each tank contains 200,000 litres," Arthur Gosingan, head of the Coast Guard, told Reuters. "We hope none of the remaining tanks will rupture."
Some families have moved away from the shores of Guimaras, about 470 km south of Manila, as the fuel washes up on beaches, staining sand and trees.
Health officials have advised residents not to eat anything from the contaminated waters but some people, dependent on the sea for food, have ignored the warning.
Environmental group Greenpeace said the Philippines must hold Petron and its partners accountable for the damage.
"We will go after those who may be found responsible and liable for this environmental catastrophe," said Ignacio Bunye, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's spokesman.
"In the meantime, let us focus our energies and resources on a fast clean-up to prevent the spread of pollution." (With reporting by Karen Lema)