AROUND 200 residents from four sitios in Barangay Punta Engaño, Lapu-Lapu City have reported having skin rashes, throat irritation and cough, which they attribute to dust emissions from a ship-breaking operation in the area.
Sitios Tulo, Lupa and Malingin, including a nearby compound, are the areas closest to the ship-breaking operation and are most affected by it.
Mayor Junard Chan took to Facebook to announce he had ordered the temporary halt of the ship-breaking operations of mv Diamond Highway on Jan. 31, 2024.
The ship ran aground during the onslaught of Typhoon Odette (Rai) in December 2021, and then it caught fire in April 2023 as it was being broken apart amid a salvage operation.
Chan said the process of breaking and demolishing the ship could have caused a significant emission of dust, and burnt materials of the ship, such as foams, could have contributed to the dust emissions.
On Wednesday, Jan. 31, Chan issued a cease and desist order (CDO) banning the ship-breaking company from cutting any parts of mv Diamond Highway.
Instead, the company was asked to clear the debris that may have caused the large volume of dust and shoulder the medication costs of those affected. The CDO came into effect on Thursday, Feb. 1.
Chan said the resumption of the ship-breaking operation will depend on the findings of the Lapu-Lapu City Health Office (LLCHO), which is currently investigating the issue.
Punta Engaño residents started to file complaints on Jan. 28 over the alleged health and environmental hazards caused by the ship-breaking operation to the barangay committee on health, which then took action by seeking the help of the LLCHO, Department of Health and the Lapu-Lapu City Government.
Barangay Councilor Mark Jonas Estardo, the committee’s assistant chairman, said residents also complained about black dust residue visible in their homes, particularly on their hung clothes.
On Jan. 30, the Punta Engaño Barangay Council released a resolution stating that the barangay did not receive any letter or permit from the ship’s management regarding its ship-breaking operation. It was estimated that the operation began in May 2023, but the company did not secure any clearance from the barangay.
SunStar Cebu reported last year, however, that the fire that struck the ship in late April 2023 could have been caused by the salvage operations being undertaken at the time by more than 20 workers.
The resolution also noted that the company failed to present an Environmental Compliance Certificate from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), a license or permit to operate, and a certificate of registration to the barangay.
A separate investigation conducted by the City Health Office Surveillance Team (CHO-ST) on Jan. 28 found that the residue generated from cutting parts of the ship was not adequately managed, and there was evident residue accumulation within the vicinity of the ship. The company sought a permit for its ship-breaking operation from the Maritime Industry Authority.
During the investigation, the CHO-ST discovered that containment measures observed during the cutting were insufficient, which heightened the risk of environmental pollution and compromised the safety of nearby residents. They also noted that the management did not strictly follow environmental protocols and guidelines for residue management during salvage operations.
Children, livelihood affected
According to Estardo, children aged eight to 12 years old were among those affected.
Around 105 of the 200 affected residents received medical attention from the LLCHO, while the others had gone to private hospitals and clinics.
Estardo said officials from the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (Cenro), LLCHO and DENR are still conducting tests to determine the safety of fish swimming in waters near the ship.
Most of the affected residents rely on fishing for a living.
“Most of the affected residents are small-time fishermen who fish for consumption and then sell whatever is left to neighbors. The others are construction workers in hotels,” Estardo said in Cebuano.
As for the safety of swimmers, the city’s Public Information Office said there are no resorts located near the ship-breaking area.
The CHO-ST initially recommended that the ongoing salvage operation be immediately stopped and for the shipping company to remove any residues that have accumulated within the facility.
It also suggested that the shipping company establish suitable devices such as dust collectors or other equipment to contain residual or hazardous wastes generated during salvage operations due to the cutting of ship parts, fragments and debris.
Meanwhile, to contain the dispersion of fumes, dust or powdery charcoal that may be produced as a by-product of the cutting or wrecking process, it is deemed necessary to install a wind barrier or an enclosure.
To prevent the dispersion of accumulated residue into the environment, the CHO-ST suggested covering the area with tarpaulins or linoleum. Alternatively, the stored residue could be saturated frequently with water, which would allow the powder particles to remain on ground level.
Lastly, the investigating body ordered the shipping company to submit a plan or standard operating procedure for the ship-breaking to the Philippine Coast Guard, Marina, Cenro, Punta Engaño officials and the DENR.
Meanwhile, the LLCHO advised residents to observe proper sanitation and cleanliness of their surroundings, including proper waste segregation. Barangay officials were also tasked to provide adequate water for affected residents and to coordinate with the City Government.
The office also demanded that the management of mv Diamond Highway provide medical and financial assistance to the affected residents. Estardo said the shipping firm has been heeding the suggestions and already donated alcohol, masks and anti-fungal ointments, among others.