A diesel oil spill spread a large reddish stain over Manila Bay, contaminating the coastline of four towns in Cavite on Friday.
A fuel tanker is suspected of having dumped half a million liters of diesel into the bay on Thursday, said Philippine Coast Guard environmental protection chief Commodore Joel Garcia.
“I cannot say that we have contained it because it has affected so wide an area,” Garcia told reporters. “There have been reports of cases of people going to hospital from difficulty of breathing due to the fumes coming from this oil.”
The spill has spread to the shoreline of Rosario, Tanza, Naic and Ternate, authorities said.
Oil containment booms were deployed while government experts are checking the impact on marine life, Garcia said.
The 300-square-kilometer slick was drifting toward the mouth of the bay Friday, Garcia said.
About 20 kilometers of coastline has been affected, he added.
Asis Perez, head of the fisheries and aquatic resources bureau, said he has banned the harvesting and sale of shellfish from these areas until further notice.
“Fuel should not be ingested by people,” Perez said in an interview over radio station DZBB.
Garcia said the Coast Guard decided not to use chemical dispersants as they would poison the water, opting to let the fuel evaporate. He could not say how long this would take.
The 34,000-barrel-capacity MT Makisig and its crew have been detained and its owners will be made to pay for the cleanup if it were proven that it indeed had caused the spill, he added.
Additionally, the crew could face criminal charges unless there were “mitigating circumstances” that led to the release of the fuel into the water.
“Fuel samples taken from the shoreline and from the ship are quite identical,” he said.
The tanker’s owners, Herma Shipping and Transport Corp, could not be reached for comment on Friday.
The tanker had earlier unloaded fuel at a Petron terminal in Rosario, the oil refiner said in a statement.
“According to initial information, the leak may have come from the vessel but this will have to be investigated further,” it said in a statement, adding its pipeline was intact.
“Diesel is not a persistent oil and will easily disperse, so there is no danger to the environment and the local community,” it added.
In a statement issued Friday, Petron said it observed traces of oily sheen near the Makisig, which had just finished unloading diesel at the terminal.
Petron said it inspected the receiving pipeline and “test results show that the pipeline is intact and has no leaks.”
But the Coast Guard is readying charges of obstruction of justice against Petron and Herma Shipping after they refused to let authorities take oil samples from their facilities.
The Coast Guard wants to compare the samples with that taken from Cavite’s coasts.
Gov. Jonvic Remulla of Cavite said that the initial reports he received point to the Makisig as the source of the oil leak.
“The examination shows that it looks like the oil spill is coming from the ship. The report submitted indicates that the spill is coming from Herma Shipping but it’s too early to tell,” Remulla said in a radio interview.
Mayor Nonong Ricafrente of Rosario has placed the town under a state of calamity because many fishermen are affected by the spill.
Fish vendors complained Friday morning that nobody was buying their wares because of the oil spill.
Coast Guard divers discovered a hole in the Petron pipeline.
Remulla has ordered the evacuation of hundreds of coastal residents suffering from asthma, vomiting and shortness of breath after inhaling fumes from the oil spill.
Sheila Mañalac, Rogelio Limpin and AFP