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Philippines Authorities Check Report of New Oil Slick; 'It's Not a Threat'

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-- The Philippines was checking reports on Sunday that a new oil slick has formed near the site of the country's worst oil spill, which has wrecked havoc on the environment of a central island.

According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature in the Philippines (WWF), a satellite image it received from the Canadian space agency Radarsat showed a 16-square-kilometre slick in the Visayan Sea.

It called for urgent action to prevent the continued spread of the oil slick, warning that the threat of habitat degradation was high in the Visayan Sea.

'WWF calls for all concerned agencies to contain the slick before it reaches the coast communities of Masbate, Biliran and Leyte,' it said in a statement.

The Visayan Sea is located northeast of Guimaras Island, 495 kilometres of Manila, which was badly hit by the oil spill caused by the sinking of an oil tanker carrying two million litres of bunker fuel on August 11.

Petron Corporation, which chartered the tanker, said it has sent out boats and planes to the area to check on the new oil slick.

'According to the Philippine coast guard, it's just a thin sheen and not an actual slick,' it said in a statement. 'It's not a threat.'

Petron added that it has sent boats to the mouth of Guimaras Strait 'to ensure that the oil is contained.'

The oil slick has already affected 66 square kilometres of sea off Guimaras Island, 220 kilometres of coastline, 1,143 hectares of a national marine reserve and 454 hectares of mangroves, according to the government.

More than 40,000 people, mostly fishermen who rely on the sea for their livelihood, have also been affected by the accident.

A Japanese salvage ship hired by Petron to attempt to recover the sunken oil tanker was expected to arrive on Tuesday.

'They will then check if they can siphon off the remaining oil or salvage the ship,' said Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz, also chairman of the National Disaster Coordinating Council.

Environmentalists and coast guard officials said at least 200,000 litres of industrial oil have already spilled into the sea, and warned that more oil was leaking from the ship.

On Saturday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo visited Guimaras and ordered Petron, the sunken vessel's owner and concerned government agencies to 'move quickly and decisively clean up this eco-mess.'

She also promised a full investigation into the accident.

The spill was the second in eight months in the Philippines. In December, a barge owned by the state-controlled National Power Corporation spilled close to 1 million litres of bunker fuel at nearby Semirara Island.

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