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Pesticide found inside ferry; search halted

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By Joel Guinto, Agence France-Presse
First Posted 09:21:00 06/27/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Ten metric tons of highly toxic pesticides were found inside the capsized M/V Princess of the Stars, prompting authorities to halt rescue and retrieval operations, officials said.

Although the suspension has dimmed hopes of finding more survivors from the ship, operations in coastal provinces would continue as a lot of the victims had been recovered here, said Transportation undersecretary Maria Elena Bautista, who heads a government task force in charge of the search.

The ferry was carrying a container packed with insecticides when it went down, with over 800 passengers and crew, during typhoon “Frank” (international codename: Fengshen) on Saturday, Anthony Golez, spokesman for the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), said Friday.

Golez said authorities would launch legal proceedings against the ferry’s operator, Sulpicio Lines, for not informing them of the toxic cargo.

“Delikado, inabort namin ang retrieval, wala munang divers dahil sa problema ng pesticide [It’s dangerous, we aborted the retrieval, we stopped the divers because of the problem with pesticide],” Vice President Noli De Castro told a news conference at the Department of National Defense also Friday.

De Castro said the pesticide cargo belonged to Del Monte Philippines.

De Castro and Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said they were trying to determine whether additional charges against Sulpicio should be filed.

There will also be an investigation into the liabilities of Del Monte and the Philippine Coast Guard, which admitted that it was not aware that the ship was carrying pesticide, De Castro and Ermita said.

Passenger vessels, like the M/V Princess of the Stars, are not allowed to carry toxic chemicals, Bautista said.

De Castro was angered by the fact that Sulpicio Lines did not inform the government that the ship was carrying pesticides even as rescue operations were in full swing.

Bautista said the government found out about the hazardous cargo only on June 24, when Del Monte wrote to the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA) of the Department of Agriculture, informing the agency that it had loaded 10 metric tons of Endosulfan on the ship.

The pesticide was contained in plastic bags tied only with twister wires, and enclosed in a 40-foot carton. It is in the cargo compartment of the stern, the part of the ship that had been submerged deepest, Bautista said.

While it is a controlled substance, Endosulfan is not banned in the country. It is used by Del Monte to control mites that cause pink discoloration in pineapples, De Castro said.

Asked if charges were being prepared against Sulpicio Lines over the loading of the pesticide, De Castro said: “Of course, pinaghahandaan na namin [we are preparing].”

“Siguro ang unang mapupugutan ng ulo dito [Maybe the first ones to be beheaded here] are Marina [Maritime Industry Authority] and Coast
Guard,” he said.

But Health Secretary Francisco Duque said there were “no observable signs of contamination” from the pesticide, such as fish kill.

When asked however what could happen if all of the 10 metric tons of pesticide would spill into sea, Dr. Lyn Panganiban of the University of the Philippines Toxicology Department, said, “It can be a catastrophe. It is a highly hazardous and toxic chemical.”

Endosulfan can kill humans, with a ratio of 0.8 to eight milligrams per one kilo. Someone weighing 50 kilos for example, could be poisoned by 400 milligrams (50 kilos x eight milligrams) of the pesticide, said Panganiban of UP’s National Poison Management and Control Center.

The substance, which is in flake powder form, does not dissolve easily in water, but could break up and settle on the ocean floor. There are no immediate signs that the poison has spilled, Panganiban said.

Asked if the halt to rescue operations has dimmed hopes for survivors, Bautista said in Filipino: “I think that’s where we’re headed.”

Bautista said foreign and local divers, suited in protective gear, would examine the vessel again on Saturday to determine how the pesticide could be retrieved.

Divers who had been searching the ferry for four days and the bodies that had been recovered would be examined for possible exposure to the poison, she said.

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Written by joelguinto

Fri+00:002008-06-27T06:57:44+00:00+00:0006b+00:00Fri, 27 Jun 2008 06:57:44 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am06

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. dPOk4o hi! hice site!


    Tue+00:002008-07-29T18:18:27+00:00+00:0007b+00:00Tue, 29 Jul 2008 18:18:27 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 pm07

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