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ZAMBOANGA DEL NORTE, Philippines – Residents of a town in Zamboanga del Norte have appealed to the owners of a cargo ship that ran aground on their shores over a year ago, to take back the ill-fated vessel, fearing an imminent oil spill.
Despite their pleas, the shipping company has yet to remove the vessel, leaving Katipunan town vulnerable to environmental damage, and raising concerns about the lack of legal recourse in such situations.
“The risk of an oil spill is increasing daily,” Katipunan Mayor Jose Michael Maiko Wong told Rappler on Monday, May 22.
The 498-ton cargo ship, MV Jake Vincent Cinco, owned by Villa Shipping Company based in Cebu City, remains stranded and deteriorating on the shores of Katipunan since the devastating impact of Typhoon Odette (Rai) shortly before Christmas Day in December 2021.
Typhoon Odette pummeled the country, making landfall at least nine times between December 16 and 17, resulting in forced evacuations and widespread devastation across all island groups.
As the 15th tropical cyclone to hit the country in 2021, Odette caused severe damage, including the destruction of homes, the uprooting of trees, and the collapse of power lines. The torrential rain brought by the typhoon also led to flooding and triggered dangerous landslides.
Expressing frustration, Wong said, “We are frantic, we are frustrated, and we are helpless because there is no law that would compel the shipping company to pull their ship immediately, and we don’t have the capability to do so either.”
He said he brought the concern to the Philippine Coast Guard and the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), but he has not been given any viable solution or assistance.
Wong said the only response he received was a promise from Siquijor Representative Zaldy Villa, one of the ship’s owners, who promised that they would remove their vessel from Katipunan without specifying a specific timeframe.
The ship’s captain, Michael Fernandez, who has been staying on the ship, recalled that they had anchored at a port in the nearby town of Roxas in Zamboanga del Norte on December 16, 2021, but violent waves caused by Typhoon Odette snapped their mooring cables.
Typhoon Odette, a Category 5 typhoon, was the strongest to hit the country in 2021, and it caused the deaths of over 300 people. It was the second-strongest typhoon to hit the country since Typhoon Yolanda in 2013.
M/V Jake Vincent Cinco was transporting copra from Surigao. Shortly after unloading its cargo at a coconut oil mill in Roxas, it was hit by large waves.
Fernandez recalled how the 38-year-old cargo ship was violently tossed by the waves from Roxas Port until it ultimately ran aground in neighboring Katipunan town.
While Fernandez assured residents of Barangay Uno that the ship’s fuel tanks were not leaking and the bunker fuel was secure, he also disclosed that seawater had already entered the vessel’s engine room.
He said a thorough inspection of the hull for any holes must be conducted before towing the ship to prevent accidents. The pronouncement suggested that the ship would remain on the shores of Katipunan for an even longer period, raising more concerns about the possibility of an oil spill.
“At first, we were thinking the ship would be pulled off, but it’s been more than a year and a half now, and it seems the owners have no plans to recover their ship,” said Ademar Ochotorena, a councilor of Barangay Uno in Katipunan.
When Ochotorena posted an appeal on Facebook in April, Lloyd Bohol, the president of Villa Shipping Company based in Cebu City, sent him a letter on May 8, to apologize for the situation and appeal for understanding and patience.
“We sincerely apologize for what had happened… We would like to reiterate our commitment to resolve the matter in the best possible way we can,” read part of Bohol’s letter.
Ochotorena said they would continue sending appeals to the shipping company until the vessel is removed from their shores.
“We are protecting our environment because once it is destroyed, it would be extremely difficult to bring it back,” Ochotorena said.
Katipunan is a second-class town about 14 kilometers west of Zamboanga del Norte’s capital, Dipolog City.
The town was named “Lubungan” (graveyard) during the Spanish colonial period. National hero Dr. Jose Rizal had a farm in the town, which was sold to one of his students in Dapitan City. – Rappler.com