Guimaras gov’t demands total cleanup of oil spill from power barge
ILOILO CITY—The Guimaras provincial government has called on the operator of a damaged power barge that triggered an oil spill to ensure the swift and complete cleanup of areas on the island that have been dirtied by bunker fuel.
“I would like to be clear that there should be no bunker fuel left in Guimaras,” said Gov. Samuel Gumarin in a statement.
He said the Ayala-owned AC Power Corp., which operates the power barge, has the responsibility to clean up the bunker fuel that leaked from Power Barge 102 docked off the coast of Iloilo City last July 3.
As of July 6, black oil sludge had reached at least 23 coastal villages in the towns of Buenavista and Jordan and Guimaras province.
Senior Supt. Jerry Candido, officer-in-charge of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) in Western Visayas, said investigators have “established that there was negligence” leading to the explosion on the barge.
The BFP is preparing to file a complaint for reckless imprudence resulting in damage to property and reckless imprudence resulting in slight physical injuries in relation to the explosion and the injury it caused one of the workers on the barge.
Candido, citing investigation results, said workers were using acetylene torch to cut bolts and nuts on an air vent as part of maintenance work on Power Barge 102.
The air vent, which was outside the hull of the power barge, leads directly to one of the tanks that store bunker fuel.
Investigators said they believed the cutting work, using acetylene torches, triggered the explosion that tore five holes on the hull of the barge including a hole less than a meter in diameter on the side where the bunker fuel leaked.
“It should have been common sense that work using open fire should not have been done near the fuel tank,” Candido told the Inquirer.
“They should have known that that bunker fuel is inflammable,” Candido said.
He said the work was also conducted without a permit from the BFP.
An estimated 251,000 liters of bunker fuel leaked from the power barge, sending black oil sludge into coastal villages in Iloilo City, the Iloilo towns of Leganes and Dumangas and Guimaras Island, according to the Philippine Coast Guard.
As of Monday (July 6), at least 209,960 liters have been collected by cleanup personnel.
Gabino Ramon Mejia, head of plant operations of AC Energy Corp., said the company had tapped third-party consultants to conduct an investigation on the explosion after receiving different accounts of the blast.
“Rest assured that our company will be very transparent and will work with government agencies and authorities. We will be very cooperative with government,” he said.
The company is also providing food to residents evacuated to keep them away from bunker fuel fumes and are hiring them in a cash-for-work program to help in the cleanup of oil debris on the shoreline.
In a resolution passed at its regular session on Tuesday (July 7), the Iloilo City Council asked AC Energy Corp. to compensate residents of villages dirtied by the oil spill.
Gabino said the company was willing to provide compensation to the residents subject to government rules and protocols.
The Iloilo City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office reported that 125 families, or 442 individuals, are staying in evacuation centers as of Tuesday afternoon.
The oil spill is expected to reach mangrove areas especially near the power barge.
Rex Sadaba, a mangrove specialist based in the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV), said many mangrove seedlings and saplings at the 1.9-hectare mangrove area near the barge are expected to die due to the bunker fuel.
UPV scientists have been tapped to conduct an assessment of the environmental impact of the oil spill, including on Guimaras.
In 2006, Guimaras was devastated by a massive oil spill after the MT Solar 1 tanker sank southeast of the island, spilling 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel.
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