SHIP DAMAGED CORALS

By: Jhunnex Napallacan, Jose Santino S. Bunachita, Michelle Joy L. Padayhag June 15,2016 - 10:50 PM
DIVERS inspect the  extent of the damage caused by international cargo ship MV Belle Rose on the reef of Monad Shoal where it ran aground on  Monday. (CONTRIBUTED/PDRRMO)

DIVERS inspect the extent of the damage caused by international cargo ship MV Belle Rose on the reef of Monad Shoal where it ran aground on Monday. (CONTRIBUTED/PDRRMO)

MV Belle Rose hits 3 hectares of corals in Monad Shoal

Officials of northern Cebu’s town of Daanbantayan will seek a still unspecified amount of compensation from the owners of the Panama-registered cargo vessel for the damage it wrought to about three hectares of the coral reef of Monad Shoal, a protected marine area that is part of the Malapascua dive spot, considered one of the country’s best dive sites.

Daanbantayan Mayor-elect Vicente Loot said his municipal government would pursue a formal marine protest against the owner of the Panamana-registered MV Belle Rose, the Sun Ship Management Corp. Ltd. of Japan, to collect damages that would be used to rehabilitate the coral reefs damaged by the vessel when it ran aground on the shoal at dawn on Monday.

The effect of the incident to Malapascua’s tourism was also still being calculated, according to Loot.

“There’s a big damage in terms of our coral reefs and on our people. That’s our selling point, the Monad Shoal. When you talk of Daanbantayan, it is because of Malapascua. If Malapascua is known, it is because of Monad Shoal. If you talk of Monad Shoal, it’s because of the thresher sharks,” Loot said by phone.

Cebu Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) Head Baltazar Tribunalo Jr. said in a press briefing yesterday that the damaged area was about three hectares of the 300-hectare shoal.

The affected corals were the Brain Corals species, locally called “Tampulong” and “Binagong,” but it was not known yet how old they were, according to William Villaver of the Cebu Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (Penro).

The damage to the corals should be considered a blow to preserving the shoal’s coral reef as corals only grow less than one centimeter a year, added Villaver.

The 20-man all Filipino crew of the Japanese-owned vessel, including the Filipino captain identified as Vicar Niel delos Reyes, were also prohibited from leaving the vessel while the issue was still being resolved, according to Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Cebu Station Commander Agapito Bibat.

“The crew will remain inside the ship because that’s part of our protocol,” Bibat said.

Bibat said an investigation headed by Ensign John Manuel Alic has begun interviewing the crew and duty officers of the vessel to determine the cause of the accident.

He said ship Captain Reyes has already submitted a marine protest, claiming that the vessel was avoiding a group of fishermen when it instead hit the shallow area of the shoal.

Loot said a composite team of technical divers was still determining how to monetize the damage caused by the ship, using as reference the claim made by the government when a US warship also ran aground and damaged a wide area of Tubbataha Reef off Palawan in 2013.

On Jan. 17, 2013, while sailing to Indonesia following a port call on Subic Bay, the minesweeper ship USS Guardian ran aground on the south atoll of Tubbataha Reefs, damaging 2,345 square meters of coral on the reefs, considered a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). In February 2015, the US government paid P87 million to the Philippines for the damage its warship caused on the reef.

He said they have asked the PCG to suspend diving activities within the immediate vicinity of the ship. However, other areas of Monad Shoal and around Malapascua Island, a known spot for thresher sharks, will still be open to divers, he added.

SHARK SANCTUARY

Monad Shoal was declared a marine protected area under a 2001 executive order issued by then Daanbantayan mayor Luisa Loot, the wife of the incoming mayor. Another executive order issued last year by outgoing Mayor Augusto Corro declared Monad Shoal and adjoining Gato Island as shark and ray sanctuary, prohibiting the catching and trading of all shark and ray species within these waters.

Gary Casas, a member of the bantay dagat group Migo sa Iho (friends of sharks) and a dive shop owner in the area, said the prohibition would not affect their business since the area where the ship is stuck is not part of the common dive sites where thresher sharks can be seen.

“It is not our regular spot. It’s part of our diving area but not the regular spot. It’s not where we view thresher sharks and other sharks,” Casas told Cebu Daily News over the phone.

He said that aside from thresher sharks, they also regularly spot manta rays, devil rays, eagle rays and white tip sharks in their regular dive spots.

They would also sometimes spot gray reef sharks and, on rare occasions, hammerhead sharks and tiger sharks.

Casas, a diver, is part of the composite assessment team as representative of the Malapascua Business Association. Other members of the team are from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Penro, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the PDRRMO.

Tribunalo said the team was trying to find ways to remove the ship without causing more damage to the corals.

NO OIL SPILL

Four holes were found on the hull above the bow of ship but there was no threat of oil spill since the ship’s fuel tanks are located on the upper portion of the ship, said Tribunalo.

Cindylyn Pepito, chief of the Central Visayas Environmental Management Bureau (EMB-7) ambient monitoring section, joined the assessment team and yesterday affirmed there was no danger of an oil spill as the fuel tanks were of the safe distance from the damaged hull.

During their aerial inspection and visit to the site last Tuesday, Tribunalo said they noticed a small tugboat that was trying to push away the vessel but it was stopped by the PCG as it could cause more damage to the corals.

“We found out that the area where the ship ran aground is only ten meters deep while the submerged portion of the ship was 12 meters,” he said while showing actual photos of the damaged corals and rock stumps.

Rhafael Luche, a member of the PDRRMO’s risk assessment team, added the ship owner has contracted a Malaysian repair crew and Japanese welders, who arrived in the area yesterday to start repairs on the holes.

Commander Bibat said the priority would be to re-float the ship, which carries 48,000 metric tons of clinker, a raw material needed to produce cement, from Japan and was bound to the Taiheiyo Cement Philippines Inc. (TCPI) in San Fernando town in southern Cebu when it ran aground after it avoided a group of fishermen fishing off the shoal.

TCPI, in a statement, said it might also claim damages over the delay of the clinker shipment, as it has affected their production. But the company assured the incident would not delay their delivery of their cement to their customers.

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TAGS: Cebu, Cebu Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, coral, coral reef, Daanbantayan, damage, dive spot, diving, Malapascua, Monad shoal, MV Belle Rose, Sun Ship Management Corp. Ltd. of Japan

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