A joint marine probe will be conducted in the vicinity of Ursula Island Game Refuge and Bird Sanctuary in Bataraza to determine if coral reef areas have been damaged by a large fishing vessel that ran aground there last week.
The investigation will be done on August 7 by representatives and key personnel of the local office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), Haribon Palawan, and the municipal government of Bataraza that shares jurisdiction of Ursula Island.
Protected Area Superintendent (PASu) Franklin Aquino said Tuesday that it will be carried out to inspect the area where Chris Paul Bill-III, a vessel owned and operated by Irma Fishing and Trading Corporation based in Navotas.
He said it will have to be determined if the vessel had incurred damages to the coral reef within the vicinity of the important bird sanctuary where it ran aground in the afternoon of July 31.
“Kung sakaling mapatunayan na nagkaroon sila ng environmental damages sa Ursula, maaari silang magbayad ng damages dito kaya on Friday (August 7), malalaman kung mayroon silang nasira,” Aquino said.
Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer (PENRO) Eriberto Saños, on the other hand, said they are ready to impose penalties to the operator of the vessel if it can be proven by the assessment that damages have been incurred.
Saños said Ursula Island off Bataraza town is a protected area because of its bird inhabitants and other wildlife. This means its conservation is a priority.
“Sa assessment, doon natin malalaman at kung mayroon man pagmumultahin sila o pagbabayarin sa damage. So far, ayon sa info wala namang nangyaring oil spill sa area natin sa isla,” he said.
Chris Paul Bill-III is currently under the custody of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in Barangay Rio Tuba.
Aquino said that based on initial investigation of the captain and the crew of the vessel, it was learned that they ran aground after seeking shelter in Ursula Island from the bad weather at sea.
On its way to the island, its engine experienced mechanical trouble which caused the vessel to hit what seemed to be “hard rock”.
“Naghanap sila ng shield that time — masama daw ang panahon at pumunta sila sa Ursula noong time na yon. Namatay daw ang makina nila bigla habang papadaong at parang tumama daw sa bato malapit sa baybayin ng Ursula,” PASu Aquino said.
Boy Magallanes of Haribon Palawan in a public Facebook post Tuesday said the “marine zone composition of the incident area varies in the Ursula Island’s lowest to highest tide vicinities –northeast long-winding tidal flats, and possibly, the incident area comprises the sessile-benthic coral communities, and that may extend to its vast sandy-table corals’ seafloor substrates”.
“Under Executive Order No. 12, Series of 2018 by the Governor of Palawan, assessment of damages in the incident area and its buffer zone will have to be undertaken immediately including rehabilitation, and monitoring measures,” Magallanes said.