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Ilocos Region

PIA Press Release
Thursday, November 04, 2010

Customs to lift abandonment order on Nokor vessel

by Cristina Arzadon

PAGUDPUD, Ilocos Norte – The Philippine Coast Guard is now waiting for the lifting of the abandonment order that the Bureau of Customs had imposed on a North Korean vessel that has been spilling oil since typhoon Juan slammed Northern Luzon last month.

The lifting of the order was recommended by the Ilocos Norte provincial board as part of the long-term solution to the oil leak that had started posing danger to tourism and marine life in Pagudpud town.

Once the order is lifted, the vessel’s custody will be returned to the owner who will then assume the coastal clean up, siphoning of oil and pulling out the vessel from the shore.

Capt. George Ursabia, district commander of the Philippine Coast Guard in North Luzon , said the BOC’s clearance is expected to be released within the week.

“The lifting of the order will simplify procedures. We will then talk to the owner for the damages caused by the grounding and pollution,” he said.

Ursabia had been stationed in Pagudpud since last week to oversee the siphoning of oil and shoreline clean up.

“It looks like a good ship from where we stand (from the bridge). But the damages are on the other side because of big waves that have been constantly pounding the vessel,” he said.

The vessel was carrying a shipment of 3,000 metric tons of magnetite ore or black sand extracted from Cagayan when it sailed through rough waters in Pagudpud in early January. It later ran aground after developing engine trouble.

Ursabia said the vessel’s original position was vertical to the shoreline.

“It was salvageable as good ship at that time. A salvor was already on board ready to pull the vessel. But nobody gave the go signal to pull her out,” he said.

The ship is owned by Oyang Marine Company, Ltd. and registered under the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea . It was bound for China from the port of Aparri in Cagayan.

The vessel no longer contains any cargo because all the magnetite ore have been gradually washed out each time the holes were hit by big waves.

The Coast Guard said the vessel was carrying 160,000 liters of bunker oil its main tank. Based on estimates, the vessel has been spilling oil at 60 liters per hour during normal sea conditions. The spill rate is higher when sea waters are violent.

The designated salvor, Royal Jessan Petromin Resources, Inc., has so far siphoned off 17,500 liters of mixed bunker and diesel oil from the vessel. The Coast Guard estimates the remaining oil left on board at 80,000 liters while the rest of the fuel have seeped into the sea while blobs of oil float on the water.

Ursabia said the waves’ action have helped disperse some of the bunker fuel that have been washed out from the vessel as it mixed with diesel and drained into the sea.

Coast guard personnel and additional manpower sent by Pagudpud Mayor Matilde Sales have been manually conducting coastal clean up along the shoreline where the leak has spread.

Personnel have been digging and removing corals and plants from the shoreline that have been contaminated by oil. They have so far collected 200 sacks of contaminated debris.

Ursabia said the oil seepage was moving southwards towards resort hotels in Maira-ira Cove locally known as Blue Lagoon.

He said another team was conducting clean up about two kilometers from the vessel as the oil has spread towards the area.

He noted, however, that the slick may not reach resort hotels at the Blue Lagoon because that part of the sea has a natural barrier that stops the oil from hitting the shorelines fronting the hotels.

He said the seawater condition in that area is not as critical as the area where the vessel sits.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos, who made a surprise visit of the oil spill on October 30, said she wanted to personally see the leak’s effect on the marine environment.

“The spill has spread in Pagudpud and the fisher folks here are the ones deprived of livelihood and ecological balance,” Marcos said.

“When I go back to Congress, we will make a decision that is good for all,” she added. (PIA ILOCOS NORTE)

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