The Coast Guard and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources yesterday were racing against time to prevent a major environmental disaster as oil seeped from a tanker that sank between Guimaras and Negros Islands Friday. The spill is threatening marine life and the tourism industry of Western Visayas, officials said, and moving closer to Negros Occidental.
The Coast Guard in Bacolod had a Marine Environment Protection Unit, assisted by trained personnel of oil firms in the province, on standby to set up spill booms in case the oil slick approaches
Negros, to help prevent its entry into the area, Chief Petty Officer Cornelio Barbasa said. Valladolid Mayor Ricardo Presbitero said a team he sent to the site of the oil spill calculated that it was already 9 miles from the shoreline of his town.
The oil spill is about 3280 ft. by 6.5 ft. wide and is estimated to be moving at 5.5 nautical miles a day.
If nature does not intervene the oil spill could hit the shoreline of Valladolid and southern Negros in two to three days, Presbitero said. Mitigating measures along with the Provincial Disaster Management Team are being undertaken, he said. A team he sent to the spill area found dead fish in bubbly oily water, he said.
Pulupandan Mayor Luis Mondia and Bago City Janet Torres were also keeping a close watch of their coastlines.
Last night Mondia said the oil slick was reported to be 4.3 miles from the Pulupandan shoreline and high tide could cause it to move in overnight.
Lieutenant Commander Joseph Coyme, a Coast Guard spokesman, said booms have been placed around the site of the sunken tanker, Solar 1, that was carrying 2 million liters of Petron-owned bunker oil to try and contain the spill.
Officials of Guimaras have appealed for help as the spill threatens the livelihood of thousands of residents and the economy and ecosystem of the province and neighboring areas.
"The oil spill is so big that it could dwarf the Semirara incident," Cmdr. Harold Harder, Coast Guard-Iloilo station commander, said referring to the massive oil spill off Semirara Island in Antique last December 18 after a power barge ran aground and spilled at least 364,120 liters of bunker fuel. It was then considered the biggest spill in the country's history.
The spill has extended to a 15-mile stretch reaching 50-75 meters in width along the coast of Nueva Valencia town in Guimaras.
The Coast Guard is rushing to bring in spill boomers, skimmers, oil dispersants and other equipment to the area.
Capt. Luis Tuason Jr., Coast Guard commander in Western Visayas, said tugboats loaded with equipment were expected to reach the area late yesterday afternoon.
Nueva Valencia Mayor Diosdado Gonzaga said the spill has affected 10 coastal barangays out of the 22 total villages of the municipality. These include the villages of Cabalagnan, Canhawan, Dolores, Guiwanon, Igdarapdap, La Paz, Lucmayan, San Antonio, San Roque and Tando.
The spill has affected around 15,000 or nearly half of the town's population of 34,000.
Guimaras Gov. JC Rahman Nava said a state of calamity was expected to be declared for Nueva Valencia yesterday. The whole province will also be placed under a state of calamity if the spill affects the other towns of Sibunag, Buenavista, San Lorenzo and the capital town of Jordan.
Nava said the shoreline in the affected villages is covered with thick dark oil that has reached some of the houses of residents. He said they will evacuate the residents if necessary.
The spill threatens the rich fishing ground, mangroves and other marine life in the area world renowned beach resorts on the island.
It could also damage a national Marine reserve and fisheries research center
in Barangay La Paz on Taclong Island in Nueva Valencia.
Guimaras officials are coordinating with the Coast Guard and national agencies for assistance.