Manila: President Gloria Arroyo said on Tuesday she will ban ships carrying hazardous materials from passing by "ecologically sensitive" areas in an attempt to prevent tragedies like the oil spill near Guimaras.
"I have ordered the coast guard to identify sea-lanes for vessels carrying oil and other hazardous chemicals to keep them away from ecologically sensitive areas," the president said three weeks after a tanker carrying bunker fuel sank near the coast of Guimaras.
The sinking of the MT Solar I off the coast of Guimaras on August 11 during rough seas had prompted the country's biggest environmental clean up effort after an estimated 500,000 litres of industrial fuel was spilled in the surrounding seas.
The coast guard said the vessel, which was carrying 2.2 million metric tonnes of oil when it sank, continued to leak it as it settled some 650 metres below.
Arroyo had been holding emergency meetings with key Cabinet and disaster management officials at a resort in the central Philippines island during the last two days to map out the government's plan of action in the wake of what had been considered as the country's worst oil spill.
According to Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano, the Visayan Sea in Central Philippines is one possible area where oil tankers would be banned.
Aside from straddling rich fishing grounds, the Visayan Sea is considered the country's centre for biodiversity owing to the hitherto unspoiled marine ecosystem.
Durano said the oil spill has affected only four towns in Guimaras, namely Nueva Valencia, Sibunag, Buenavista and San Lorenzo.
"Most of the areas for tourism had been relatively untouched by the oil spill," Durano said.
Also yesterday, Solar I Captain Norberto Aguro admitted before a board of marine inquiry he is not licenced to handle tankers as big as the 998-metric tonne vessel.