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Tacloban’s dilemma: Salvage ships or dismantle houses?

Roy Lagarde

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Tacloban’s dilemma: Salvage ships or dismantle houses?
The ships can't be removed until the newly built houses of informal settlers are dismantled. To begin with, the shores are no-build zones.

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – In coastal villages here, local officials and those involved in rebuilding the city badly hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) are facing a dilemma.

There are 8 ships that need to be salvaged after they were swept to the shore at the height of the typhoon last November 8. Ship owners cannot do so, however, because it would mean dismantling the houses that informal settlers built to give the ships elbow room. 

What makes things complicated is, those families should not have rebuilt their houses there in the first place – their areas have been classified as no-build zones.

A few weeks after the typhoon struck the province, several residents of Anibong and Rawis districts in Tacloban immediately rebuilt their homes despite some cargo ships being stuck in their villages.

Lt. Jr. Grade Paul Ryan Gonzales, Philippine Coastguard Tacloban station chief, said efforts to salvage the vessels in coordination with the city government have been ongoing since February, but some problems are slowing down the operations.

“Newly rebuilt houses surrounding the vessels really hamper the operation,” Gonzales said. “It’s also about the safety of the residents because these are giant ships.”

There are 10 cargo vessels that were swept inland by storm surges brought by last year’s typhoon – 8 of these are in barangays 68, 69, and 70.

The two others are in the villages of Diit, near the San Juanico Bridge, and in Barangay 75, where a Department of Public Works and Highways dredger remains stuck along with one vessel belonging to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources at Tacloban port.

The PCG has also granted a salvage permit to at least 4 vessels so far, but all ship owners signified their intention to remove their vessels as soon as possible.

As of January, retrieval operations had been ongoing for MV Eva Jocelyn of Eva Shipping Lines, MV David of Candano Shipping Lines, MV Rosman owned by Richmond Ng, and MV Lancer ofMatsya Shipping Lines.

“We even eased the permit process to fasten the salvage operation, but without sacrificing the safety of the people and the marine environment,” Gonzales added.

Randy Lucero, captain of MV Jocelyn, said they started to remove their ship as early as December and had been making progress.

He said the efforts would take more time, as negotiations are ongoing with residents whose houses will be affected in the clearing operation so the vessels can be taken out.

“We negotiate with them and offered financial assistance worth P5,000 and light materials to rebuild their houses again,” Lucero said.

But while others agreed with the offer, some families are demanding a higher amount ranging from P15, 000, P50, 000 up to even P1 million.

Lucero said his shipping company, however, refused to go beyond their original offer for assistance.

“That’s why we asked the barangay chairman and the city government to help us in the negotiation,” he said.

At least 8 houses were already relocated in the salvage operation for the 45-meter-long and 3,000-ton MV Jocelyn alone, and 7 more houses will be affected until the vessel is finally removed from the area.

Gonzales said around 40 houses and shanties will have to be cleared to salvage the vessels in Anibong and Rawis.

Other vessels currently stuck inland in Tacloban are MV Tom Elegance of Tacloban Oil Mills Incorporated, MV Star Hilongos of Roble Shipping Lines, MV Gayle of Unilink Shipping Linese, and MV RKK Uno owned by RKK Shipping Lines.

The city government gave the ship owners up to May to remove the vessels, but it will have to settle its own problem first of relocating the informal settlers in supposedly no-build zones.

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