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Retrieval of endosulfan from capsized ship finished in 2 weeks

October 1, 2008 1:47am
MANILA, Philippines - Operations to remove hazardous chemicals inside an upturned ferry in the Visayas are expected to be completed in two weeks, authorities disclosed Tuesday.

Transportation Undersecretary for maritime affairs and Maritime Industry Authority Administrator Ma. Elena H. Bautista, chief of Task Force M/V Princess of the Stars, said the salvage firm hired by vessel owner Sulpicio Lines, Inc. had also removed 22 packs of toxic pesticide endosulfan as of Tuesday afternoon.

There were about 400 packs of endosulfan that went down with the ferry, with each pack weighing 25 kilograms (kg). The retrieved packs were sealed in steel drums once placed on the barge.

"Weather permitting, the retrieval of the toxic cargo will be completed within 12 to 16 days," she told a news conference at the Manila South Harbor.

Based on the contract signed by the shipping firm and United States-based Titan Maritime and its local partner Harbor Star Shipping Services, Inc., the salvage company has one month to finish the operation, which started Sept. 19.

Authorities were forced to call off the retrieval of hundreds of trapped bodies following the discovery of 10,000 kg of highly regulated endosulfan, shipped by Del Monte Philippines, Inc., which will be used as pesticide in pineapple plantations.

Later on, 392 kg of Antracol WP70, 501 kg of Fuerza GR3, 17.5 kg of Trap 70WP and 150 liters of Tamaron 600SL were discovered. All were owned by Bayer CropScience, Inc.

"The plan now is to remove all toxic chemicals as fast and as safe as possible. We have to ensure the safety of personnel working in the area," Ms. Bautista said.

But Rodrigo P. Bella, chief operating officer of Harbor Star, said they will remove the Bayer chemicals only after retrieving the endosulfan.

Ms. Bautista said they will turn over all retrieved chemicals to the Fertilizer and Pesticides Authority and Environmental Management Bureau.

Princess of the Stars sank on June 21 off Romblon province at the height of typhoon Frank (international code name: Fensheng). Only over 30 survived the tragedy out of more than 850 crew and passengers on board.

Ms. Bautista said, "procedures are in motion" to remove the bunker fuel estimated at 250,000 liters.

Meanwhile, two more civil cases were filed against Sulpicio Lines, bringing to 21 the total number of cases in connection with the sea mishap.

Three regional trial court judges in Cebu, namely Geraldine Faith Econg, Douglas A. C. Marigomen and Sylva Aguire-Paderanga, have approved the consolidation of some of the cases. The latest cases were filed by relatives of seafarer Joel Eballena and entertainer Annaliza Ouano. — Bernard U. Allauigan and Ghea R. M. Tenchavez, BusinessWorld