Oil spill from sunken ferry in Philippines hurts coastline, fishermen

Updated 6:00 AM EDT, Tue August 20, 2013

Story highlights

Oil from a sunken ferry has spread to the seabed and beaches

The contamination is damaging the area's fishing industry, a local mayor says

The owner of the ferry has taken steps to try to contain the spill

Authorities say 64 people have died and 56 are missing from the sinking

(CNN) —  

The ferry disaster in the southern Philippines that has so far left more than 60 people dead and dozens more missing is also turning into an environmental catastrophe for the surrounding area as spilled fuel contaminates coastlines.

The St. Thomas Aquinas, the ferry that sank last week after colliding with a cargo ship near the port of Cebu, took tens of thousands of liters of fuel and engine oil with it into the water as it went down.

Now, local officials say, the oil is wrecking fishing grounds and staining beaches.

“We have the largest fishing ground in Cebu, 3,000 hectares, and all of it is covered in oil,” said Mayor Andelino Sitoy of Cordova, a seaside municipality of Cebu City.

Sitoy said the spill is causing problems on three fronts, as it has contaminated seashores, as well as the mangroves where many fish find their food and the seabed, which is home to shellfish and eels.

Fishermen suffer

The owner of the sunken ferry, 2GO, says it has taken steps to try to limit the damage, including deploying tugboats with spill-containment equipment and flying in oil spill experts.

But the 20,000 liters of diesel fuel, 120,000 liters of bunker fuel and 20,000 liters of lube oil that the St. Thomas was carrying are already taking their toll.

Local fisherman are already losing income because of the spill, Sitoy said, estimating the cost so far at 50 million pesos ($1.14 million).

“We don’t know how much more the impact will be, it depends on the restoration of the seabed,” he said.

Local and foreign tourists come to Cordova for its seafood, Sitoy said, and the area also supplies seafood to most of Cebu.

The municipality is also home to a number of resort hotels.

A dangerous strait

Cordova is situated new the Lawis Ledge, the strait where the St. Thomas is reported to have crashed into the cargo ship, the Sulpicio Express, on Friday night.

The collision tore a huge hole in the cargo ship’s bow, but it didn’t sink.

The ensuing rescue effort managed to save 750 passengers from the ferry. But in recent days, divers have only been recovering dead bodies from the sunken vessel.

The number of confirmed deaths stood at 64 and a further 56 people remained missing, the Philippine Coast Guard said Tuesday.

The Lawis Ledge, which leads to the port of Cebu, is considered to be a dangerous area for ships, CNN affiliate ABS-CBN has reported.

The Philippine Coast Guard has recorded several accidents in the narrow, crowded strait in recent years, the local broadcaster said.

The coast guard plans to include recommendations for addressing the problems in the strait in its investigation into the ferry sinking, according to ABS-CBN.