Officials working to remove stranded fishing vessel in Pohnpei
Efforts are being made to remove a stranded fishing vessel leaking oil at a Pohnpei reef in Federated States of Micronesia.
Efforts are being made to remove a stranded fishing vessel leaking oil at a Pohnpei reef in Federated States of Micronesia
Officials from the Federated States of Micronesia are working to move a fishing vessel stranded on a reef off the capital of Pohnpei, after the government declared it a substantial environmental and health risk.
The Kiribati-flagged Chinese vessel, Ping Da 7, became stuck on the reef on December 11th, carrying substantial amounts of dangerous fuels, gas and chemicals.
Mary Baines filed this report.
A member of the taskforce formed to remove the vessel, Francis Itimai, says there are 40-thousand gallons of oil, 2-thousand gallons of ammonia and 8 barrels of hydrolic fuel on board the vessel. He says while it was able to pump and contain an oil leak last week, the vessel is a ticking time bomb for another spill.
FRANCIS ITIMAI: We've temporarily contained the spill but the ship is still on the reef and with high surf, it's still pounding on the reef. So it's just a matter of time before the other tanks rupture.
Mr Itimai says by law, it is the responsibility of the vessel's owner and insurer to salvage it.
FRANCIS ITIMAI: In the beginning when the vessel runs aground, by law, it is the responsibility of the owner and the insurance provider to submit a dalvage plan to us to take the vessel off the reef. We have given them up to January the 22nd to do that, and we're not getting any response, any response whatsoever.
Mr Itimai says when members of government contacted the Hong-Kong based owner, he said he did not have the funds to remove it. He says a claim against the owner has been filed by the state government and the Department of Justice is looking to do the same. Mr Itimai says taskforce staff are on the wreck this week, taking an inventory of its assets and ensuring there is not another spill. He says it has made a call for assistance to tug boat operators in the region, as their tug boats are too small and high tides are drawing the vessel further onto the reef.
FRANCIS ITIMAI: Our command centre is reaching out to any potential tug operators that can come in and help us remove, the first priority is the fuel, and also possibly the wreck off the reef.
The Conservation Society of Pohnpei says the potential environmental impacts of another oil leak could be disastrous. Its Marine Programme Manager, Jorg Anson, says as well as the threat of a spill, the vessel has badly scarred the reef.
JORG ANSON: Usually it takes years and years for such areas to recover, because ship hulls are usually painted with anti-fouling paint. Studies have shown areas where there are concentrations of anti-fouling paints, recruitment, growth and even rebirth options are almost impossible.
The government has declared a state of emergency, which means all immigration, customs, and quarantine processing and clearance has been temporarily relaxed. The government has said this is to facilitate the dispatch of experienced personnel and specialised vessels without hassle. The state of emergency will be in force until February the 22nd. The Pohnpei governor, John Etsa, could not be reached for comment.
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