Philippine Oil Spills: Prevention, Response and Rehabilitation

by Robert Leonard Goco

On August 11, 2006, the oil tanker M/T Solar I with two million liters of bunker fuel sank in the strait of Guimaras, just off the coast of Guimaras and Negros Occidental. Five hundred thousand liters of oil were spilt to the sea, affecting large areas of coastline and rich fishing grounds; damaging local biodiversity and livelihoods of many. This environmental and economic disaster was declared by the president as a national calamity and deemed the worst oil spill experienced by the Philippines with its effects still being felt until now and theorized to last for two generations.

Not many people are aware of the effects of oil spillsin our country, not unless they are directly affected by it. That is actually understandable since oil spills only affect within its proximity. Nonetheless, people should still be made known of such in order to help make a movement in preventing oil spills, getting ready to respond in the event of an oil spill and rehabilitation of affected areas.

Prevention

Disasters like the Guimaras oil spill is particularly rare and some people who got affected are not even aware of its possibility. Still, they happen; sometimes, from pure misfortune and most of the time, from carelessness and human error. Oil spills, when proper transportation of fuels are followed, can be easily avoided. The one that happened off the coast of Guimaras went through thorough investigation to properly give justice to anyone responsible to the massive destruction it has caused. Some of the most notable theorized causes for the sinking of the tanker is bad weather, overloading of the tanker (they say the tanks only has a capacity of 1.2 million liters), and an incapable captain to manage the ship. From the three mentioned, only one of them is certainly uncontrollable by man. The remaining two would have easily been avoided and it would have saved the affected communities from economic chaos and deaths of thousands of local flora and fauna.

Prevention of oil spills is simple. Basically, the best preventive measures to this kind of disaster are simply to keep a tanker afloat when transferring fuels across seas. Dilapidated tankers are obviously not to be used and frequent monitoring of the ship should be enforced. Because of the Guimaras Oil Spills, single hulled tankers are already banned from shipping in the Philippines. Tankers, although large and sturdy, should not be allowed to cross seas in bad weather conditions so as not to put it at risk. Only trained professionals should be allowed to man tankers so as to avoid misjudgements in case of an emergency.

Response

There are a lot of measures done in the event of an oil spill. There is so much done and so much money put into a fast-paced action, because the longer it takes for the surface oil to be left in the ocean, the more it is absorbed by the flora and fauna. There is also a great need of qualified volunteers for the clean-up of oil slicks. Our country, known for its state of being a third world country, does not have the technology nor the resources to battle an oil spill. That is why our president called on foreign allies to help in our national calamity. Nonetheless, oil spills have always been solved with a global effort. In such cases, no country is left to solve its own oil spill. It is a joint effort with all the manpower and technology put to use for once specific goal: saving the environment and preserving life.

From oil-eating bacteria to simply burning of surface oil, there has been various way of dealing with an oil spill. It is still a fairly studied by ecologists since it goes with great concern that spills can definitely bring damage and it must be hindered with cost-effective technologies.Fauna in affected sites are usually captured and held in captivity for the meantime, complete with health assessment and recovery rehabilitation. It is also equally important to actually have a team assembled in case of oil spills that will manage the influx of funds that will be sent to help (as you might expect the possibility that money may be stolen by corrupt officials). Initial response takes about a few months to a year at most and any longer than that is more likely classified as rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation

There are two types of rehabilitation for the two major victims of an oil spill, the local flora and fauna and the local economy. For the local flora and fauna, rehabilitation may take form in the creation of artificial reforestation of mangroves of flora of seabeds. Species of animals that were taken from the affected sites are re-released to the wild. Data is also collected and graphs on the progress of affected sites are properly analysed to monitor its rehabilitation rate.

More often than not, funds are allocated more on economic problems of affected areas. Livelihood programs are set while they are temporarily given financial help since their jobs (which are usually dependent on the seas i.e. fishing, seaweed farming) are on hold because of the oil contamination. Along with that, there is also psychological rehabilitation of the people who are affected (because depression usually plagues victims), as well as occasional health check-ups.

Rehabilitation takes most of the time in the process of rising from the disaster of an oil spill. It takes a lot of effort and dedication from different groups, both NGO and governmental, in order to completely relieve the affected areas from the problems brought about by oil spills. Oil spills are actually fairly common, as common as every trip an oil tanker does, but these spills are very small scale compared to the Guimaras Oil Spill. Somehow, the oil slick of guimaras became a wake-up call for the Philippines to create awareness and alarm to always be ready for any disaster.

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