Google International Herald Tribune - MANILA, Philippines: A barge carrying 630 tons of debris from the worst oil spill in the Philippines sank in rough seas, officials said Tuesday.
Philippine Maritime Industry Authority enforcement chief Arnie Santiago sought to allay fears of a new environmental crisis after the barge, which was being towed by a tugboat, sank in huge waves late Monday off the town of Plaridel, 450 miles (720 kilometers) southeast of Manila.
The Ras was carrying 630 tons of sand with bunker oil that had been cleaned up from Guimaras island, in the central Philippines, where the tanker Solar I sank on Aug. 11 and spilled some of its 500,000 gallons (2 million liters) of fuel.
The spill displaced 39,000 people and damaged 140 miles (220 kilometers) of coastline, including pristine marine reserves.
Santiago said there were no reports of casualties in the latest incident, and that effects on the environment were expected to be minimal.
The sand and bunker oil, which were contained in sacks, "would sink to the bottom of the sea and will likely leave only traces of oil, like thin filaments that would also evaporate," he said.
Petron Corp., the country's largest oil refiner, said the shipment had been en route to a cement plant in the southern Philippines for treatment and disposal. Petron owned the fuel that was spilled in August and had contracted Harbor Star, the operator of the Ras.
In a statement, Petron said the debris contains only "traces of oil."
"It has been weathering for three months and is unlikely to pose a danger to communities, shorelines or marine life," the statement said.
Petron Vice President Joey Campos said the Ras had been carrying the last portion of the 6,000 tons of debris collected from Guimaras.
"We are quite confident that there will be no damage," he told ABS-CBN television, and assured that all precautions were being taken and equipment mobilized to respond to the latest incident.
But the environmental group Greenpeace said Petron must be held accountable.
"Petron has yet to fully answer for its disastrous oil spill in Guimaras, but here it is again with another environmental disaster in the making," Greenpeace campaigner Beau Baconguis said in a statement. "This is truly deplorable, and betrays once again Petron's serious lack of diligence in ensuring that the company's operations are safe and secure."