Beached ship under close watch for possible pollution

KIAMBA, Sarangani, Southern Philippines – Maritime authorities have put up a close watch on a 225-meter vessel that ran aground some 2.5 nautical miles off the coast of Sarangani Province, in southern Philippines, sustaining a hull damage that may cause possible oil spill in the area.

The MT Double Prosperity, loaded with 65,900 metric tons of coal, rammed a portion of the Bakud Reef (Tambilil among local) off Kiamba town on Sunday, damaging an estimated four-hectare area of the protected marine sanctuary. The Panamanian-registered ship came from Australia and was bound for India.

Philippine Coast Guard Commander Roy Echeverria said they have taken necessary steps to contain an oil spill and coal contamination that may further damage the area.

He said they expect to remove the ship from the reef within  three weeks.

“Spill booms are on hand if ever spillage may be observed while the province’s Environmental Conservation and Protection Center (ECPC) continuously get water sample to check for contamination,” said Echeverria.

A report posted at www.shipwrecklog.com/log/tag/bakud-reef showed that an underwater inspection found that the bunker tanks holding the fuel are leaking.

Echeverria, however, denied the oil spill report. He said on Thursday that their personnel have not observed any oil spill coming from the ship. He said they have been continuously monitoring the ship since Sunday.

“Weather permitting and on ideal conditions plus the additional salvage equipment that will be coming, the ship may be extricated within more or less three weeks,” Echeverria said.

The Coast Guard commander said marine scientists will be arriving in the area after the vessel has been towed and will assess the extent of damage it caused on the reef.

Earlier reports said the Double Prosperity suffered hull damage with a small hole near the port forepeak. Three-fourth of the vessel rests on the reef and will be difficult to refloat.

Damage claims

In a meeting on May 11, provincial officials discussed about collecting compensation from the ship owners for the environmental damages their vessel caused. It was learned that Double Prosperity is the largest ship so far that ran aground on Philippine waters.

“We called for the meeting to take the lead in putting together concerned agencies to ensure synergy and countermeasures are made,” Sarangani Governor Miguel Rene Dominguez said during the meeting at the ECPC.

He said they do not want agencies to commit blunders that may become an international disaster. “We are a protected seascape thus adding more seriousness to the matter,” Dominguez told officials.

Built in 2005, M/V Double Prosperity, a Panama-registered tanker vessel, has 39,727 gross tonnage and 25,754 net tonnage. The ship is skippered by a Filipino captain with 21 all-Filipino crew onboard.

Affidavits from crew and officers onboard revealed admission of human error on the part of the vessel navigators.

PCG report

Echeverria said the ship ran aground on or about ten in the morning of May 8 at the vicinity 2.5 nautical miles off Kiamba, hitting the Bakud Reef, a marine protected area.

Initially, the detachment commander, a certain PO1 Ranches, boarded the vessel together with K9 and special operations group personnel to provide security to the vessel and conduct an initial investigation.

PCG personeel found out that the fore peak tank of the vessel was leaking. The vessel is presently in stable condition, however, authorities are assessing the threat oil spill and coal pollution that may pose to the environment.

The PCG initial investigation report states that the accident could have happened due to the following causes — “the officer failed to properly maneuver, the master failed to provide navigational watch due to alcohol impairment, and the ship was on auto pilot and not one was manning the wheel.”

Admission of error

In a video clip shown at the meeting by provincial environment and natural resources officer Noel Carino, ship captain Danilo Sta. Ana admitted the ship went aground due to human error.

“Yung accident na nangyari (The accident that occured) is purely human error,” said Sta. Ana in his May 9 affidavit.

Sta Ana said “as per initial checking, the duty officer miscalculated our vessel’s position which put our good vessel hitting the reef. I tried countermeasure by reversing the engine but to no avail. We regret this maritime accident.”

Past mistakes

In July 2006, grounding of a ship in Tubbataha Reef caused immeasurable damage to the ocean’s priceless corals and pelagic life.

In July 2009, M/T Golden Alkane ran aground at vicinity of Bakud Reef after passing Sarangani strait and navigating the waters of Celebes sea.

“No damage compensation were claimed against the owner of the vessel. The municipality was not aware and did not hold the ship. This is a mistake in the past that we do not want to repeat,” Dominguez said.

Though there is a small probability of oil spillage, the Provincial Legal Office, together with national line agencies as complainants and the province as the collaborative counsel, are decisive to file a civil case against the owners of M/V Double Prosperity.

Governor Dominguez disclosed that an expert in marine biology from University of the Philippines’ marine science will come to determine the extent of damage on the reef and coral life caused by the grounding of the ship.

“Our objective here is to make the boat safely pulled out from the reef, no collateral damage will be done, and that the rights of the province is protected and compensated,” Dominguez said.

Dominguez, as vice chairman of the Protected Area Management Board, will sign a letter requiring the owner of the ship to send a representative and sit down for negotiation.

“If they cannot send a representative then we file the case,” Dominguez said.

Dominguez is however positive that the ship’s owner would deal with the matter professionally.

Meanwhile, Echeverria said there must be a detention order to hold or detain the ship to avoid pollution.

“Since she is involved in a maritime incident, her (M/V Double Prosperity) documents are suspended per IMO (International Maritime Organization) regulations,” Echeverria said.

Echeverria warned of a worse-case scenario if the ship will flip during the salvaging process. Dominguez directed ECPC to have a 24-hour monitoring on the condition of the ship. (Reported by Ben Jason O. Tesiorna for PECOJONPH/rgr)