The cargo ship Belle Rose carrying 48,000 tons of cement powder ran aground near Malapascua Island (Philippines) on Monday (Jun13), affecting 2,500 square meters of coral reef.
While the bulk is still stuck among the corals, there appears to be no oil spill or threat to the thresher shark population. Salvage operations are also set to begin today.
Coast Guard station commander Agapito Bibat said that upon inspection of Marine Safety Investigation Team on Tuesday, there appears to be no signs of oil spill. However, they also found three holes from the water tanks at the bottom of the ship.
This aerial shot shows the M/V Belle Rose stuck on the Monad Shoal off Malapascua Island. Image: Dale G. Israel
Talking to marine biologists and divers in Malapascua, incoming Daanbantayan Mayor Vic Loot said the ship dragged itself some 300 meters on top of reefs in Monad Shoal before it stopped.
Monad Shoal is 11 meters underwater during high tide and the divers told Loot that the ship buried itself about 6 to 7 meters deep into the shoal's terrain. The bulk carrier is 183 meters long and about 50 meters wide.
Loot described Monad Shoal as the number one dive site in Malapascua Island frequented by tourists because it is the site where thresher sharks are regularly seen.
The shoal forms like an underwater plateau, he added.
Bulk Carrier Belle Rose - Image: Hans Fairhurst
Upon first check by divers led by marine biologist Gary Cases last Monday, the area where thresher sharks are seen was found to be unaffected. However, they will however make another dive today to be sure.
The Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office also sent a team to check on the incident Monday afternoon after they were informed by Cases and the other divers of the incident.
The bulk carrier’s crew said they merely wanted to avoid hitting local fishermen when they aground at the Monad Shoal, according to the Coast Guard. However, Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office chief Baltazar Tribunalo wants a deeper investigation into the incident to determine if this was true.
Tribunalo said the PDRRMO will conduct a separate talk with the Belle Rose’s officers and crew who are all Filipinos. They are under contract with the Japanese company Crest Ocean Traders.
The PDRRMO, in its initial assessment with the help of marine biologists, computed that around 2.4 hectares in the Monad Shoal was damaged by the incident.
Their computation was derived from the ship's 180-meter length and the 50-meter width. Upon hitting on the shoal, the vessel continued to drag itself on the seabed 300 meters before it completely stopped.
The Coast Guard and the divers sent by the Capitol were also able to see corals that were pulverized in the seabed.
The Capitol's disaster management office has already contacted local marine biologists from the University of San Carlos, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to help in the further investigation of the incident.
PDRRMO said the damage is bigger than what had happened in Tubbataha Reef involving a US Navy warship in January 2013 for which the US ended up paying $2 million in reparations.
Tribunalo, along with experts from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and DENR also conducted an aerial survey of the Monad Shoal.
The provincial government along with the DENR is looking into filing of lawsuit against the management of the ship, the Sunship Management Co. Ltd., and its Manila counterpart, Alpha Shipmanagement Corp.
Salvaging operations to start today
The ship management intends to unload her cargo of cement in order to lighten her weight and get her to float easier and has sent for a sister ship to come and get her cargo.
The Coast Guard said the management of ship has also hired the services of a tugboat for salvage operations while another tugboat is also expected to arrive by today to help in the process.
The Capitol, however, is not keen the salvaging process starting just yet before a full investigation and damage assessment is finished. Tribunalo said that they will ask to stop salvaging processes.
The northernmost town of Daanbantayan is about 127 kilometers north of Cebu City while Malapascua Island is about an hour’s boat ride from the Cebu mainland.