03 August 2014

SBMA: Measures in place to avert ore spill in Subic Bay

The top official of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) said the agency has institut­ed measures to avert the recurrence of iron-ore spill following complaints from local fishermen that the off­shore terminals of a freeport-regis­tered company polluted the waters of Subic Bay last week.

SBMA Chairman Roberto Gar­cia said in a media forum here on Wednesday that he ordered the management of Vale, which operates two floating transfer stations (FTS) in Subic Bay, to stop transshipment during heavy rains to avoid spillage.

The company has also committed to increase the capacity of the rain­water collection tanks in its floating terminals so that excess rainwater will not wash down whatever iron ore is left on the deck of the ships, Garcia added.

The firm, Brazil-based Vale In­ternational SA, is the world’s largest producers of iron ore and controls the largest share of the seaborne trade in iron ore. The company expanded its operations in Subic Bay after one year by deploying another FTS in April.

Garcia said some iron ore on the deck of the floating terminals “were washed away” when it rained hard on July 25.

“We have monitored the spill, which caused discoloration of the waters around the vessels, and by the third day, it has already dissipated,” Garcia said.

The discoloration, however, alarmed residents, particularly fish­ermen, in the Subic Bay area. They initially thought the discoloration was due to rust coming off the hulls of the two floating terminals.

But a resident who recently opened a page called “Stop Vale Ore Operations in Subic Bay Now” in the Facebook social-networking site pointed out that the reddish water around the ships was the result of iron sediments.

The Facebook activist also assert­ed that Olongapo City should earn money from the multimillion-peso income of SBMA from Vale opera­tions because “it is clear that the part of Subic Bay where Vale ships operate is under the jurisdiction of Olongapo, and not of SBMA.”

“The SBMA enjoys huge income while Olongapo gets the damage,” the Facebook page also said.

Garcia, however, gave the assur­ance that Vale operations do not pose a threat to the environment, as well as the health of residents, adding that the firm is “very much safety-conscious.”

He also said it would not be pos­sible for any local government unit (LGU) to collect more fees from Vale operations “because the SBMA is re­leasing revenue shares regularly to all LGUs affected by Subic Bay Freeport operations.”

The Subic agency had just an­nounced on Tuesday it would re­lease a total of P93.7 million to eight LGUs in the Subic Bay area. This includes Olongapo, which will get the lion’s share of P22.7 million as revenue share from Subic Bay Freeport operations for the first semester this year.

On concerns about the environ­ment, Garcia said iron ore is not a toxic substance and that because it is a naturally occurring element, “does not react to the environ­ment.”

The only possible hazard that iron ore may pose, Garcia said, “is when you inhale it in dust form.”

He said, however, that Vale is wetting the iron ore slightly during transshipment to prevent the forma­tion of dust that may be blown by the wind into the sea.

“We have done due diligence here in coordination with Vale even before they started operating,” Garcia said.

Garcia, however, may not be ready for an offshoot of the alarm raised by the reddish waters seen around the Vale ships last week.

Olongapo City Councilor Noel Atienza said he will file two separate resolutions about the issue: The first to urge the Office of the President and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to conduct an investigation into the Vale iron-ore spill, and the second, to urge the SBMA to stop Vale operation to pre­vent further spillage.(Henry Empeño, BusinessMirror)