Zamboanga del Norte

Fishermen save crew as cargo ship sinks near Zamboanga del Norte

Gualberto Laput

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Fishermen save crew as cargo ship sinks near Zamboanga del Norte

SINKING. The ill-fated cargo vessel MV Star Sabang hours before it sank.

PDRRMO-Zamboanga del Norte

Zamboanga del Norte officials worry about a potential full oil spill

ZAMBOANGA DEL NORTE, Philippines – Fishermen rescued 13 crew members of a cargo ship that developed engine trouble and eventually sank less than a kilometer off Bayangan Island, near Labason town, Zamboanga del Norte, on Monday, January 15.

“We thank the fishermen of Bayangan, who risked their lives despite strong winds and high waves to save the crew of MV Star Sabang,” said Ensign Kaleb Kahar, deputy commander of the Philippine Coast Guard-Zamboanga del Norte Station in Dapitan during an inter-agency emergency meeting held in Dipolog City on Wednesday, January 17.

The Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (PDRRMO) called for the emergency meeting to assess the threat of a full spillage of the ill-fated ship’s remaining 4,700 liters of diesel fuel and hydraulic fluid, and to recommend necessary actions.

MV Star Sabang, which was carrying 170 tons of cement bound for Zamboanga City from Cebu City, was a general cargo ship with a carrying capacity of 517 deadweight tons. Built in Japan in 1987, it was originally named Kazu Maru No. 8, and was acquired by Cebu-based Roble SG Incorporated in 2015.

Allen Sison, head of the PDRRMO Operations and Warning Division, said they received reports about traces of oil where the ship sank. However, the Coast Guard clarified that it was a small amount of diesel and hydraulic fluid from the ship’s engines, not from the main fuel hold.

Kahar said sea pressure could rupture the fuel tank immediately upon reaching the bottom.

“But the ship is only 172 feet under the sea, which is not deep enough to create sufficient pressure and burst the tanks. In this case, corrosion would eventually break the tank, but it will take some time,” Kahar said.

Nevertheless, he said they have already sent a “temporary oil containment boom” to Labason in case of a full spill. The floating boom is designed to trap oil spills, which naturally float to the surface, and then pump them into a container ship.

The Coast Guard added that diesel fuel is “non-persistent” compared to bunker oil and would dissipate by waves and evaporate after three to five days in the event of a full spill.

“However, it is still toxic to the fish and a health hazard to the more than 100 residents of Bayangan island, the rescuers of the ship’s crew,” Kahar said, as it was agreed that the best course of action is to directly siphon off the ship’s remaining diesel fuel.

While strong winds and high waves continue to batter Zamboanga del Norte’s coasts, PDRRMO officer in charge Norman Alegarbes said there will be an aerial inspection at the site using an Air Force helicopter on Thursday, January 18. After the inspection, they will decide on the course of action in coordination with the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) and the provincial government.

On Sunday night, January 14, MV Star Sabang sent a distress call to the Coast Guard when it developed engine trouble amid strong winds and high waves, causing it to list on the port side and slowly take in water off Bayangan, approximately 130 kilometers southwest of Dipolog.

The ship radioed its location at 0.4 nautical miles, or almost a kilometer north of the island.

Sison said the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Management Offices (MDRRMOs) from the towns of Labason, Liloy, and Salug responded, along with personnel from the Coast Guard’s Labason station.

Due to adverse weather conditions, they were unable to reach the distressed ship and sought assistance from a civilian two-way radio facility with a contact in Bayangan Island.

Sison said the fishermen from Bayangan braved the inclement weather and hurried to the distressed MV Star Sabang with their small bancas after establishing communication with government rescuers in Labason at 2 am on January 15. This was just in time, as the ship’s captain ordered an “abandon ship” at 3 am when it began to sink.

MV Star Sabang sank at 12:20 pm on Monday. – Rappler.com

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