ILOILO CITY, Philippines – Vessels and choppers brought Department of Social Welfare and Development Western Visayas (Region 6) office personnel to islands of the Caluya municipal archipelago in Antique province to start distribution of cash aid on Wednesday, March 8.
DSWD regional Disaster Response Management Division chief Judith Tanate-Barredo said the department will give emergency shelter assistance of P5,070 to each of 7,617 affected families, or 5,732 individuals in four barangays affected by the Oriental Mindoro oil spill.
The total amount for this aid tranche is almost P2.9 million, Barredo said.
The DSWD announcement came with the good news on dwindling signs of the oil slick around Caluya, where black, foul-smelling sludge was first sighted on March 3.
“There is no fresh oil, or drifting oil, or surface oil,” said Commander Jansen Benjamin, operations officer and public information officer of PCG District Western Visayas.
Caluya placed the municipality under a state of calamity on Monday, March 6 due to massive devastation brought about by the effects of oil spill.
On Wednesday, March 8, clean-up teams were still finding contaminated debris, like sea grass clumps, and cleaning shorelines.
Benjamin, however, said beaches on Caluya are turning clear again after the disposal of contaminated sand.
The PCG officer said the oil slick is drifting towards Oriental Mindoro, especially Pola Bay, which he described as a catch basin.
Unless weather conditions change or the currents shift, the risk to the western part of Panay island is decreasing, he added.
Antique Governor Rhodora Cadiao on March 6 warned against a “ripple effect” that could impact neighboring west Panay areas, including the world famous tourist island Boracay in Aklan province.
Malay town, which oversees Boracay, on March 7 started assembling improvised oil spill booms and issued a heightened alert for a possible spread of the oil slick.
Barredo clarified that food packages had earlier been brought to the islands of Caluya, Semirara and Liwagao, three islands comprising Caluya municipality.
Ferry boats brought two teams separately to Caluya and Semirara while a chopper brought another group of DSWD staff to Liwagao.
The personnel on boats left Lipata port on the Antique mainland around 10 am for a six-hour trip to Semirara.
Barredo said they brought 500 more family food boxes to augment the 2,000-plus food packs sent earlier.
To give a picture of the impact of the oil spill that followed the sinking on February 28 of the MT Princess Empress, the PCG said Liwagao island alone had 2 kilometers of affected shoreline.
Volunteers and local government and PCG crew collected an estimated 8,000 liters of oily waste and 600 liters of oily water from the sea. In addition, they collected 10 drums of contaminated sand and other shore debris.
At the briefing, officials released a list of safety wear and equipment sent by the Office of Civil Defense, the DSWD, and the Department of Health, including over a thousand N95 medical grade masks, and 10,000 pcs of ordinary masks, hard hats, goggles, gloves, boots, and PPE sets.
But EMB Region 6’s Environmental Education and Special Concerns chief Arjunn Marven Calvo asked government bodies to “control the rate of exposure of people conducting the clean up.”
“PPE’s (personal protective equipment) can only protect you so much,” he pointed out.
He urged cleaning crew to stay away from oil-contaminated areas at the hottest hours of the day to prevent medical complications.
“Don’t stretch the time you spend on the shore. Cease operations when the temperature gets too warm and wait until the collected oil debris stop emitting heat,” he said in a mix of English and Hiligaynon.
Caluya’s critical seaweed farms are safe for now, Barredo said, adding that initial radar probes of the sunken vessel indicate that most of its cargo hatches seem intact, limiting the oil leak.
“But as long as vessel is on the seabed and cargo remains, there’s a real potential of a spill again,” he stressed.
The MT Princess Empress, on a journey from Limay, Bataan to Iloilo, was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil. Benjamin said the Western Visayas PCG still does not know the consignee of the cargo.
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