CEBU CITY -- Oil spill experts have advised against using hair and feathers as improvised oil spill boom.
They said these would only aggravate the hazard that the oil slick poses to the environment.
The advisory came as local government units (LGUs) in Metro Cebu, private companies and concerned citizens donated and gathered human hair, chicken feathers and other indigenous materials to help contain the oil spill.
At the Lapu-Lapu City Jail, some 700 inmates even had their heads shaved just so they can contribute to the clean-up operations.
Dr. Resurreccion Sadaba, University of the Philippines Iloilo Oil Spill Response Program manager, said hair and feathers are made of keratin, which would take long to degrade. These would just add to the pollution.
Sadaba told reporters on Thursday that hair, especially salon-treated, may contain chemicals and bacteria that would harm the marine environment.
Organic materials such as coconut fiber and coconut husks placed in jute sacks are recommended and may be used as improvised oil spill boom.
But Sadaba said these materials are temporary solutions to the problem of oil contamination of the marine environment.
Sadaba, together with chemist Dr. Ida Pahila, is in Cebu to work with the Philippine Coast Guard to come up with measures to contain the oil spill that has spread from the Lauis Ledge in Talisay City, where the mv Thomas Aquinas sank after colliding with the cargo vessel mv Sulipicio Express Siete last Aug. 16.
The oil slick has reached the coast of Lapu-Lapu City and Cordova town.
On Thursday, technical divers from Japan plugged two of the three holes on mv Thomas Aquinas where fuel was leaking from.
Lito Salvio, 2Go Group’s officer-designate for Safety Management System, said the divers from the salvor companies they commissioned managed to plug two of the three holes that the divers found on the vessel’s tank. They plan to siphon the remaining oil in the vessel.
In a press briefing at the Cebu City Hall Thursday, Jiro Ohkubo, salvage master of The Nippon Salvage Co., LTD., and Capt. Daniel Sarmiento of Malayan Towage and Salvage Corp., told Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama that one of the holes was plugged last Wednesday and another one was plugged Thursday.
Central Visayas District Commodore William Melad of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said that after the holes were plugged, they managed to bring down the initial rate of leak of 500 liters per hour to 250 liters per hour, or 4.1 liters per minute.
Ohkubo said they will start extracting the remaining oil from the ship’s tank.
Sarmiento estimated that there are around 40,000 liters of fuel left.
Their examination dive that started last Wednesday was meant to locate the holes and determine the best way to extract the oil from the vessel’s tank. One way is to make a hole in the tank and pump out the remaining oil, he said.
Ohkubo said they still don’t have the exact figures on how much oil is left in the tank.
Sarmiento told reporters in the press briefing that there were 40,000 liters but 2Go records showed 120,000 liters in the tank before the accident.
2Go had said that the vessel was carrying 20,000 liters of diesel fuel and 120,000 liters of bunker or crude fuel in the ship’s fuel tank, and 20,000 liters of lube oil.
Also on Thursday, 2GO and Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp., which owns M/V Sulpicio Express Siete, were invited by DENR-Central Visayas Regional Executive Director Dr. Isabelo Montejo to a technical conference scheduled today.
The officials will discuss the rehabilitation and replanting of at least 328 hectares of mangrove destroyed by the oil spill.
The DENR imposed a damage compensation of P6.56 million for affected mangrove areas contracted by people’s organizations under the Integrated Coastal Resource Management Project.
The UP professors assessing the damage were tapped by EcoFish project, which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (Usaid).
US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg received a call asking for help with the oil spill. The embassy tapped EcoFish to help address the concern.
He said the group has since coordinated with Marine Environmental Protection Command (Mepcom) Cmdr. Joel Garcia.
EcoFish Project is concerned about the Danajon Bank, which covers both Cordova town and Lapu-Lapu City.
Cmdr. Frank Villalobos, Philippine Coast Guard Mepcom master chief, reported that the length of the area affected by the oil spill has reached 21.083 kilometers while the area affected by the oil slick is three kilometers by three meters.
He added that the Coast Guard has conducted manual recovery of floating debris in 13 barangays.
Villalobos also noted a lack in chemicals and personnel protective equipment (PPE) for the people involved in clean-up operations.
So far, they collected 117 drums of debris contaminated with oil and 361 sacks of debris contaminated with oil.
He said they have disallowed volunteers without PPE and they did not use the two sacks of hair that was donated for the clean-up.
Villalobos said they are installing sorbent booms to make sure the oil spill stops spreading.
The priority of containing oil spills is to protect the shoreline because the people should be protected, said Professor Sadaba.
Sadaba noted that the PCG has limited options, considering that an oil spill boom could not be installed because of strong current and big waves at the origin of the oil leak.
He recommends siphoning the remaining oil from the vessel, continue oil containment measures and the protection of the shoreline.
At the Lapu-Lapu City Jail, being behind bars did not stop some 700 inmates from helping remove oil slicks along the city’s coast.
Chief Insp. Renante Rubio, the jail warden for the male dormitory, said they expect to collect five to six sacks of hair from the inmates in the next few days.
The hair will be brought to the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (Cenro) and will be used to make an improvised boom to prevent the spread of oil.
“This is voluntary. The inmates were not coerced to donate their hair,” said Rubio, adding that nobody voiced opposition when he brought up the idea.
“Since they cannot help financially or physically, they’re happy to donate their hair,” he added.
Rubio said he expects around 600 of the 928 male inmates to donate their hair.
Senior Insp. Jonnabelle Roiles, jail warden for the female dormitory, said 81 of the 104 female inmates have donated their hair.
Rubio said he hopes inmates in other jails will do the same.
Cenro Head Roderico Tagaan said the hair will not become pollutants because these will be stuffed into stockings or nets.
He said the hair will not be scattered in the seawaters, and the hair booms will be removed after these have absorbed oil.
Tagaan said the priority of his office is to ensure the oil spill will not reach the shores of Lapu-Lapu, but he said the City will also help Cordova town, where fishermen and residents have suffered from the oil spill.
Joseph Orpio, 23, who had his head shaved on Thursday, said he was happy to donate his hair, about two inches long, for the coastal clean-up.
“This is our own little way of helping,” Orpio, who was arrested for homicide charges, said in Cebuano.
The City Government provided the scissors, clippers and snacks.
Rubio said many of the inmates have families in Cordova and Lapu-Lapu who depend on fishing for income. (Sun.Star Cebu)