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New toxic chemical in Princess reported to task force

Post n°64 pubblicato il 12 Novembre 2009 da ROUNCHY
 

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by LILITA BALANE

The head of the government task force overseeing MV Princess of the Stars' salvage operations disclosed Saturday she had received new information about another toxic chemical inside the vessel that sunk off Sibuyan island in Rombon last June 21 at the height of typhoon Frank.

"I received an information today that apparently there are two other containers that have a toxic material, though not as toxic as endosulfan. We also have to review how all these chemicals would react with each other," Task Force MV Princess of the Stars chair Elena Bautista said in an interview with ANC's "Dateline Philippines," Saturday.

She said the material was a chemical spray used to kill household insects.

Other chemicals and hazardous materials that have reported to be in the capsized ferry are:
10 metric tons of Del Monte Philippines Inc.'s highly-toxic insecticide, endosulfan; Bayer CropScience's agrochemicals, Antracol WP70, Tamaron 600SL, Trap 70WP and Fuerza GR3; asphalt; paints; electric transformers.

Bautista said she has already alerted the Department of Health , the chair of the Sub-Task Force Hazardous Materials, about the newly-reported toxic insecticide.

She declined to disclose the multinational company that owns the cargo, adding she hoped the company would soon call her about its shipment.

Bautista said the task force has already called the company, but it declined to give any information.

The task force chair, who is also the undersecretary of maritime affairs of the Department of Transportation and Communication, said she was disappointed the company has failed to act quickly, arguing that the firm was not exercising corporate social responsiblity.

Misdeclared cargo

Meanwhile, Bautista said the task force will recommend to President Arroyo and DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza that freight forwarders be made to declare the contents of their containers properly.

"They should help us out because this complicates matters," she said.

Bautista said that a lot of materials in Sulpicio Lines' cargo manifesto were not declared in detail. For instance, freight forwarder Sea Quest just declared the contents of its container as "various goods."

Bautista said misdeclaration of cargo is widely practiced in the industry since not labeling a particular cargo "toxic" means three permits less from the government.

"It will be quicker for them to get things moving, and they pay less than what they are supposed to pay".

Salvaging process

In an interview with , Bautista said the foreign experts who made an assessment this week of the sunken ship have concluded that refloating the ship is not the best way to remove the oil and toxic and hazardous chemicals from the ship.

She said the experts dont want the vessel moved since dragging it near the shore might break the vessel or the containers with the toxic and hazardous materials.

Bautista said they have already identified the areas where the fuel is stored. The salvaging team will use a hose that will suck out the fuel. Another hose will bring in air or other substances that will push the oil out to the other end.

As to how best to retrieve the toxic and hazardous agrochemicals, Bautista said they will have to cut through the side of the vessel to penetrate the cargo deck.

"We will not refloat it anymore. Everything will be done under water," Bautista added.

Sulpicio contract not yet signed

Bautista said Sulpicio Lines Inc. has requested that it be given until Wednesday to finish the signing of its agreement with salvor, US-based Titan Salvage. She said salvage operations are expected to begin first week of August.

"We were hoping that the contract between Sulpicio and Titan would get signed yesterday, but it did not push through because under their arbitration clause, it requires United Kingdom security to cover for the whole cost of the operation. So Sulpicio asked for until Wednesday to secure that document, and then, they can sign the contract," she said.

Bautista said Titan Salvage wants an assurance that they will get paid by Sulpicio Lines Inc, and it also wants that at least 50 percent of the contract price be paid in cash.

She said Titan Salvage also wants a letter of assurance that in case Sulpicio Lines will not be able to pay, the government will pay the balance.

"They will start mobilizing once the contract is signed, and they need 21 days to mobilize. They will be getting all the the different equipment and chemicals in the US and then airlift them to the Philippines," Bautista added.

Sulpicio didn't violate law

Bautista also said Sulpicio Lines did not violate any law for boarding the endosulfan and other toxic cargoes on a passenger ship.

She said the International Maritime Organization has an international maritime dangerous goods code where endosulfan is allowed to be placed on decks that have no cabins or sleeping quarters.

Enosulfan can be loaded on a vessel with a maximum of 25 passengers or one passenger per three meters depending on the length of the vessel.

"The length of the vessel is 193 meters divided by three, so that would be about 60 meters. The endosulfan can be stored but it should be on the deck or under deck where no passengers stay. So it seems that it can be loaded on the MV Princess," Bautista said. -

Local community aid

Bautista said the DOH has profiled the local community near the sunken ship and has identified 50 pregnant women and 102 lactating mothers near the coast where the ship sunk.

She said the DOH has prioritized the vunerable sectors of the community, which includes these women. A contingency plan for a toxic chemical spill is being drafted. It will be implemented once toxicity is detected.

The task force asked the Department of Agriculture to make the contingency plan, and they intend to conduct a drill on site by the first week of August.

The task force already directed DOH to assess the chemical profile and determine how the chemicals will react if these get mixed. This information will help the task force determine how best to remove the toxic chemicals and hazardous materials.

Del Monte urged to clean up

Anakpawis Representative Rafael Mariano, meantime, called on the Arroyo government to compel the the US multinational firm Del Monte to immediately clean up the 10 metric tons of endosulfan inside the sunken ferry.

Mariano issued the demand after experts from the European Union warned on Friday that "toxic pesticides inside the sunken MV Princess of the Stars could start leaking any time."

Del Monte Philippines has said it was "not responsible for the sinking" and would thus not help Sulpicio Lines Inc., the owner of the ferry.

Luis Alejandro, chief operating officer of Del Monte, stated the company's position during the House hearing on the Sulpicio accident on Thursday.

"This is too much. Del Monte has been enjoying so many privileges in this country. From exploiting our lands for almost a century now and having exemptions from the ban on the highly toxic endosulfan, among others," said Mariano.

The militant lawmaker said the Arroyo government will be held accountable for not compelling the firm to help remove the toxic pesticide.

"It is just and reasonable to compel Del Monte to remove their toxic cargo out of the waters of Romblon and prevent another environmental disaster," Mariano said.

He said "Del Monte should not wait for this ticking toxic time bomb to turn the Romblon waters into a virtual dead sea."

In 1994, the Fertilizers and Pesticides Authority banned endosulfan, but exemptions were provided to multinational plantation food companies such as Dole and Del Monte, which have large plantations mostly in Mindanao.

The lawmaker reiterated calls by farmers and like-minded scientists for Congress to pass a law totally banning endosulfan and other toxic pesticides.

"Its high time for Congress to remove all exemptions granted by the government to multinationals. It is the responsibility of these agro-corporations to look for an alternative that is not hazardous and highly toxic," Mariano said.

 
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