MANILA, Philippines – The entire province of Cebu on Monday, August 19, has been placed under a state of calamity due to the oil spill coming from the sunken M/V St Thomas Aquinas.
The declaration was made by the Cebu provincial board, as the oil spill from the wreck of the ferry, which sank after it collided with cargo ship Sulpicio Express 7 Friday, August 16, threatens to reach several coastal towns.
The cities of Lapu-Lapu and Talisay, as well as the municipality of Cordova, have reported oil slicks reaching their shores, threatening coastal barangays and fishing grounds.
Approximately 5,000 hectares of mangroves are already affected by the spill, according to Allan Poquita, regional director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Sun.Star Cebu reported.
Local officials and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) are trying to contain the leak, and Cebu Gov Hilario Davide III said the provincial government is ready to help affected citizens, the Philippine News Agency reported.
Initial reports said the Thomas Aquinas was loaded with 120,000 litters of bunker oil; 20,000 litters of diesel; and 20,000 litters of lube oil.
Cordova Mayor Adelino Sitoy said the leak from the ferry must be closed immediately to prevent the spill from further spreading, the PNA reported.
Sun.Star also reported that 2GO, the owner of the sunken vessel, already hired the company Malayan Towage to help contain the spill.
The ships collided Friday as they were traveling in opposite directions at a well-known choke point near the mouth of Cebu’s port.
The steel bow of Sulpicio Express 7 caved in on impact but it sailed safely to dock.
Officials said they suspected human error was to blame for one of the ships going into a wrong lane, although investigations had only just begun.
The death toll from a ferry disaster in the Philippines rose to 52 on Monday, August 19, as more bodies were pulled from the water, the coast guard said.
Divers and patrol boats were continuing to search for 68 other people still missing.
Navy and coastguard divers have been struggling against strong currents to enter the wreckage of the ferry, which is about 30 metres (98 feet) under water. – With reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com