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Report: Captain, Crew of Ill-fated Oil Tanker Had Expired Licenses; Philippines Locals 'Running Out of Their Patience'

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GUIMARAS, The Philippines -- The Special Board of Marine Inquiry said the captain and several crew members of the ill-fated M/T Solar 1 have expired licenses and certification papers, Bandila reported Friday.

Initial investigations conducted by SBMI showed that certifications of Norberto Aguro, the oil tanker's captain, for General Tanker Familiarization and Advance Training on Chemical Tanker Operations expired in March 2002.

The report said Aguro has no training to man specialized oil tankers since his certificate of competency is only for a chemical tanker.

SBMI also discovered that Solar 1 crew members Herminio Renger, Jesse Angel, Reynaldo Torio and Victor Morados have expired certificates for General Tanker Familiarization.

The panel asked the Professional Regulation Commission to determine if Aguro and the four crewmen violated PRC regulations by using expired licenses and certificates.

The TV Patrol World report said SBMI is also questioning the oil tanker's owner use of expired interim documents of compliance, which certify that the ship complies with proper safety regulations.

SBMI Chairman Danilo Abinoja said he summoned Aguro and his crew, officials of the Sunshine Maritime Development Corp. and Petron Corp. to the inquiry on August 29 to 30.

The M/T Solar 1 sank last August 11 off the coast of Guimaras island in Iloilo province. The tanker has been leaking oil since, which affected coastal villages of the province.

President Arroyo on Friday declared the oil spill a national calamity as the slick spread rapidly and threatened some of the country's richest fishing grounds in the Visayas.

Mrs. Arroyo, who made the declaration during the 18th National Convention of the National Prosecutors’ Week in Cebu, said the oil disaster in Guimaras demands the cooperation and solidarity of all Filipinos.

"I call upon Petron and the ship owner to immediately clean up the mess and the Task Force Guimaras and Coast Guard Admiral Arthur Gosingan to attend to environmental and health issues," she said.

Medical teams were already deployed to the island and affected neighboring provinces to assist and treat residents experiencing skin irritation and respiratory problems due to the oil slick.

Mrs. Arroyo is set to visit Guimaras island on Saturday to personally assess the extent of damage brought about by the oil spill.

Because of a lack of locally available equipment and technology to reach the wreck, believed to be in depths of up to 2,600 feet (600 meters), the Philippine government has focused on damage mitigation.

Coast Guard ships as well as boats provided by Petron are battling the slick with oil spill booms and chemical dispersants. The aim is to contain the oil, dragged by the northeast current through the strait, before it reaches the open waters of the Visayan Sea, the civil defense office said.

More than 1,000 hectares of mangroves and 200 more kilometers of coasts are threatened in Panay and Negros, it added.

The Department of Health has over 60 doctors and nurses in the area treating over 300 people suffering from respiratory problems, skin irritations, coughing and asthma from the oil.

One man has died and four people have been hospitalized.

Madrigal says ship overloaded

Sen. Jamby Madrigal, meanwhile, questioned the name changes the Solar 1 went through before it was acquired by Sunshine Maritime Development Corp.

Madrigal told a press conference the ship was christened in Japan as Chie Maru No. 8, an oil tanker, but it was changed to New Himase when it was converted into a chemical tanker.

She said it was reconverted into an oil tanker with its present name when it was acquired by Sunshine Maritime Development Corp.

"The metal configuration and hold strength are already different. It is not capable of carrying dirty cargo. We do not know what happened when it was brought to the Philippines. Who did the conversion?" she said.

Madrigal said the ship was overloaded, which could have been the reason why it sank so fast after encountering big waves.

She also said the government should ban the use of chemical dispersants in cleaning up the slick because they damage aquatic resources.

She suggested that Petron use instead bioremediation, a process that uses oil-eating bacteria to break down the slick.

Chemical dispersants "kill not only the fish but also the coral reefs," Madrigal said.

She also asked why Petron chartered a small company like Sunshine Maritime, which has only a P10-million capital, to deliver its oil.

Class action

Petron also faces a class action from thousands of residents in 21 Guimaras barangays affected by the oil spill.

Emily Lopez, the ambassador to Italy, a former Guimaras congresswoman and the first governor of the province, said the people are getting restless over Petron’s delaying tactics to respond to its obligations.

"They have lost their livelihood and yet it seems the company is not doing everything to address the problem. They’re running out of their patience," Lopez told reporters.

The fisherfolk group Pamalakaya and the environmental activist Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment have served notice they would file a class action against Petron for negligence.

Lopez said that about 2,000 people, mostly small fishermen, have lost their livelihood because of the oil spill.

Petron is paying 800 of the affected residents P200 a day each for the cleanup.

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