Looking for fish to catch, spilled fuel to collect

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ROSARIO, Cavite—Wearing the face masks given to them by health and social workers, Rodolfo Lasca, 49, and two neighbors arrived at the village basketball court on Saturday to claim their emergency rice ration.

Ever since a huge diesel oil spill contaminated the waters of Manila Bay on Thursday, Lasca and residents of the hard-hit coastal villages of Cavite province who depend on the bay’s vital fishing industry worry about how they are going to manage in the coming days.

“A few local fishermen are putting to sea again but have to go much farther out to reach the fish,” said Ryan Santos, a village official here.

However, most stayed home.

“They are complaining that the slick is fouling up their boat hulls and nets,” said Santos.

Fish kill, deadly fumes

Local officials said fish and other marine life floated up dead and some residents fell sick from the fumes after an estimated 500,000 liters of fuel cast a slick across 20 kilometers of coastline.

The Philippine Coast Guard said the slick, which by Friday had covered a 300 square kilometer area, was likely released by either a fuel depot in Rosario owned by Petron Corp. or an oil tanker that had unloaded its cargo at the terminal on Wednesday.

The town residents said they first spotted the spill on Thursday afternoon when the water “turned red.”

On Saturday, what could be seen was a bluish sheen from the diesel on the water’s surface.

The bay is the country’s most important waterway in a region where about 30 million people, or nearly a third of the Philippine population, live.

Rosario Mayor Jose Ricafrente said earlier the spill had jeopardized the livelihood of 40,000 people who depend on the town’s fishing industry.

Food-for-diesel scheme

Lasca and other fisherfolk who were temporarily put out of work are being given emergency food rations by the municipal government. To get their rations, however, they have to help in gathering the spilt fuel.

They placed the fuel in empty bottles, which they handed over to town officials in exchange for claim stubs that entitled them to the emergency food rations.

“We couldn’t stop them [from collecting the spilled diesel] anyway, so we devised some sort of a food-for-work program,” said Ricafrente, who presided at his weekend satellite office at a public resort here on Saturday.

Rosario had declared a state of calamity, which enabled the municipality to release P2 million of its calamity fund to purchase the rice and sardines that it gave away to the affected residents, the mayor said.

For every 6 liters of collected diesel, the municipal government gave 3 kilograms of rice and three cans of sardines.

Ricafrente said this would also discourage residents from hoarding the diesel in their homes.

“It could be hazardous to their health and it is still combustible [even when mixed with water],” he said.

The municipal government is planning to turn over the recovered diesel, which it has kept in metal drums, to Petron for disposal.

No more fish to catch

Lasca said he worried about what his family would eat, with no more fish to catch and no more diesel to collect in exchange for food.

“This is good for just one meal,” he said, patting the plastic bag of rice for his family’s lunch.

Concerned about the safety of his three children, Lasca said they might just have to eat meat or canned goods instead of fish.

“But not everyone can afford to buy pork,” said another resident, Romeo Oriol, 52. “We’d rather turn this into porridge to make sure it’s enough for my wife and six children,” he said.

Oriol said the fisherfolk had stopped going out to sea the past two days since they could not sell their catch anyway.

“Those who ventured out came home empty-handed, as they couldn’t catch fish anywhere near the vicinity,” he said.

Contamination warnings

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources has warned against contamination in the marine products caught off the waters of Rosario, causing a sudden drop in the sale of fish, shellfish and seafoods in markets here.

“But let us not make sweeping statements because it’s affecting the [town’s] livelihood. Let’s wait for the results of the tests,” said Ricafrente, appealing to Department of Health (DOH) representatives who came to his satellite office here.

Dr. Noel Pasion, chief of local health assistance of the DOH regional office, told the mayor they would rather that residents avoid long exposure to the diesel, or at the least take a full bath every time they are exposed to it.

Ricafrente stressed that the municipal government was not imposing a fishing ban and has encouraged fisherfolk to sail beyond the 1-kilometer zone from where the MT Makisig, the oil tanker suspected to have caused the leak, was docked.

The mayor said the municipal government also planned to commission Vecom Marine Chemical Philippines, a private company, that has offered to supply some oil spill dispersants, a chemical that will disperse the remaining oil slick in the water.

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