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Oil spill threatens one of world's best dive sites (by The Philippine Star)

oil spill

By Rocel Felix

An oil spill coming from a diving boat that ran aground last month at the Apo Manor Reef, a protected marine park off Mindoro Island, is threatening to destroy one of the world’s best dive sites.


Residents of Barangay Siblayan in Occidental Mindoro, a nearby coastal
town, led by its Mayor Godofredo Minto, said that the M/V Island
Explorer has started to leak bunker fuel, endangering the reef which
serves as a fish nursery and the major source of livelihood of the
surrounding communities.

The residents have sought the help of the non-government group, Public
Interest Law Center (PILC), to compel the Department of Environment and
Natural Resources (DENR) and its attached agencies - the Apo Reef
National Park Authority, the Protected Areas Management Bureau and the
Philippine Coast Guard - to undertake a clean-up of the oil spill while
environmental charges are being contemplated against the operator of
the diving boat.

The M/V Island Explorer is reportedly owned by Chinese businessman Juan
Wee of Scuba World and Dive World.

"We have written a letter to DENR Secretary Elisea Gozun and strongly
urged her department to order an immediate clean-up of the oil spill
tow the vessel from the area to prevent potentially irreversible damage
to the marine park," said PILC legal counsel Marie Francesca T.J.

She said that the vessel left the port of Batangas at about 2:30 p.m.
On Dec. 20 last year en route to the Apo Manor Reef, carrying 24
Passengers composed of diver-tourists, dive masters and crew.

Despite the poor weather condition, the 150-foot, 450-ton Japanese-made
fishing boat that was converted into a diving vessel, proceeded with
the trip and entered the Apo Manor Reef at about 2:30 a.m. of Dec. 21.

"This is in utter disregard of elementary diligence required in
traversing such areas and because of this, along with stormy weather
that caused 15-foot waves, the vessel crashed on top of the reef. Until
now, the vessel, lying on its side, has not been towed by its operator.
An inspection last weekend confirmed there is an undetermined amount of
oil spill that could get worse," said Yuvienco.

She explained that diving boats should only start to cruise the
protected reef at daylight but the boat left at night and arrived at
the reef before daylight.

Yuvienco said the Coast Guard has been alerted about the situation but
since the incident, it has not compelled Wee to remove the boat. Wee
earlier promised to remove the wreckage from the reef as soon as the
weather clears but has failed to act on the matter.

Yuvienco noted that that the boat could have about 80,000 liters of
bunker fuel left, which is more than enough to destroy the entire Apo
Manor Reef and even spill to Palawan.

PILC asked Secretary Gozun to order Wee to tow the boat from the reef
and repair the damage done. It also recommended to the DENR to suspend
the company_s permits and license to operate pending the outcome of the
investigation of the seaworthiness of the company_s fleet.

"We are also considering filing criminal and civil charges against the
company and for violation of environment and protection laws under the
National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS), which identifies
protected areas such as the Apo Manor Reef," said Yuvienco.

The NIPAS Act prohibits the dumping of any waste products within
protected areas like the reef.

Environmentalists said the oil spill will have far-reaching effects on
marine life in the waters off Mindoro and affect the livelihood of
fishermen in the island.

Dr. Teresita Perez, a marine scientist from the Ateneo de Manila
University and a member of the Samahan ng Nagtatanggol ng Agham at
Teknolohiya Para sa Sambayanan, said the oil spill, even if just above
water, would have a disastrous effect on live corals.

"These corals are alive and need oxygen and light to survive. Different
species of fish, some of which can only be found in the reef, feed on
these corals. The death of these corals will definitely cause the fish
to go elsewhere, endangering the livelihood of nearby fishermen while
the tourism industry loses one of its major attractions, especially
among divers," noted Perez.

The Apo Manor Reef National Park is one of the more frequented dive
sites in Occidental Mindoro.

It is acclaimed as one of the world_s best dive sites. It is a
34-kilometer reef, located 20 miles west of Mindoro proper and off the
tip of Busuanga, Palawan, with a narrow channel running east to west,
which divides the reef into two lagoon systems.

The surrounding waters are abundant with marine fauna and luxuriant
coral growth with more than 500 coral species. Marine life includes
sharks, stingrays and manta rays.

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