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Lebanese Fishermen Crippled By Wartime Oil Spill

A Lebanese fisherman, his body covered with oil after he fell accidentally in the waters of a Beirut small port that is covered with a thick layer of oil spill, tries to move a boat out of the harbor, 25 August 2006. Photo courtesy of Anwar Amro and AFP.
by Jocelyne Zablit
Beirut (AFP) Aug 27, 2006
Israel's war against Hezbollah has brought disaster to Lebanon's fishermen, stricken by a massive oil spill on the country's shores, as well as heavily damaged boats and a continuing naval blockade.

Dozens of fishermen can be seen lingering in the small ports that dot the coastline, desperately surveying their idle craft and the oil slick caused when Israel bombed a power plant near Beirut in mid-July, destroying storage tanks and spilling up to 15,000 tonnes of fuel into the Mediterranean.

The slick, described as the country's worst-ever environmental disaster, has polluted an estimated 150 kilometers (93 miles) of coastline.

But while the focus has so far been on the environmental crisis, little attention has been paid to the thousands of fishermen whose lives were shattered by the month-long war and who have yet to receive any compensation from the government.

"It's been almost two months since any of us worked," said Mohammed Kniwa, head of the fishermen's union at the Raouche port in Beirut, where an estimated 150 tonnes of oil is trapped.

The Lebanese army on Friday began pumping out the black sludge, which has coated the few boats still in the water as well as the rocks around the bay where stray cats with blackened legs and underbellies prowled.

Kniwa, 63, said the only help the fishermen have received is a handout of 100 US dollars each and food parcels from the foundation representing Lebanon's slain ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

"No one from the government has even deigned to come talk to us," said a bitter Ahmad Itani, 55, who has been a fisherman since the age of 15.

"I guess they will show up when it's election time."

In the meantime, he and his fellow fishermen spend their time at the port playing cards or discussing politics and their plight.

"I have been fishing for 30 years and now I'm reduced to taking handouts," lamented 66-year-old Samir Moussa.

At the port in Uzai on the outskirts of south Beirut, where an entire fleet of 300 fishing boats was destroyed by Israeli bombardments in July, the fishermen's anger is palpable.

Not only have they been affected by the oil spill and Israel's punishing air and naval blockade on Lebanon, but their boats have also been reduced to debris, they say.

"My boat is gone, my livelihood is gone and all the government is doing is taking care of the tourist beaches rather than their own people," said 40-year-old father of six, Adel Zein El Din.

Help at Uzai has come from the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which gave each fisherman 150 dollars and some food.

But the men say that while the handout is welcome, it will do little to ease the long-term financial burden caused by the war.

Those with children say their kids will not be able to attend school this year because they cannot afford tuition fees or school supplies.

"We wait all year for the summer season because that's when we can earn up to 35 dollars a day and that helps us to make it through the winter," said Saad El Din Jizay, 41.

"But today we have nothing, and all we need is for the government to help us out until we can stand on our own two feet again," he said.

He and others said that even those who venture out to fish near the coast are unable to sell their catch at the market because buyers are afraid of pollution.

The many fish restaurants along the coast have also been hard hit.

"The first thing customers do when they come in is ask if the fish is OK," said Elie al Ward, manager at Sultan Ibrahim, one of the Lebanese capital's best-known fish restaurants.

"Our restaurant is usually full, but now we have more employees than customers," he added.

Lebanon's Environment Minister Yacoub Sarraf told AFP that the government was still evaluating the damage caused by the spill and was studying a bailout package for the fishermen.

Philippines Sprays Chemicals In Desperate Effort To Control Oil Spill
Nueva Valencia (AFP) Aug 27 - Coast guard and private contractors sprayed large amounts of chemical dispersant on a massive oil spill in the central Philippines in a last-ditch effort to keep it from spreading, officials said Sunday.

However, a coast guard official conceded they did not know if they could contain the spill from the Solar I tanker because they have not yet determined if the tanker is still leaking oil more than two weeks after it sunk off the central island of Guimaras.

"Because we're not able to control the spill we have to continuously spray during daytime. That is the only thing that has helped a lot in keeping the oil from reaching the shoreline," said local coast guard commander Harold Jarder.

"The threat is still there. We are not even sure how much of the oil has been spilled," he added.

Jarder said it was a "necessity" that an underwater survey be conducted on the Solar I, which is lying some 640 meters (2,112 feet) underwater around 13.3 nautical miles south of Guimaras, beyond the reach of human divers.

The vessel went down in rough weather on August 11. Two crew men are still missing.

Some 50,000 gallons of oil has leaked from the tanker and environmentalists fear that the remaining 450,000 gallons of oil still in the Solar 1's hold might also leak out.

Oil refiner Petron Corp, the company that contracted the Solar 1, has hired a Japanese salvage ship equipped with a remote-control mini-submarine to help in the process, but its arrival has been delayed until Tuesday.

Two coast guard vessels, a tugboat and a BN Islander aircraft, contracted by the tanker's owner, were all spraying dispersant in the waters off Guimaras where the main oil slick could be seen stretching out to the sea.

Smaller slicks have also broken off and were floating towards other islands in the central Philippines.

Jarder said that previously they had not used chemical dispersant extensively because there was a limited supply in this country. Petron has ordered more dispersant but Jarder said their supplies would only last for about a week.

The coast guard and Petron had used spill booms that float on the surface of the water to contain the oil but Jarder said the seas were now too rough for the booms to be fully effective.

"It's not practical considering the sea conditions there. (The oil) will just go under the spill boom or over," he remarked.

He said the dispersant was biodegradable, adding that the coast guard was careful not to spray on the shoreline where the chemicals might affect people.

"The area is too large to contain with oil spill booms. Spraying will just mitigate the spilled oil before it hits the beaches," said Virgilio Garcia, manager of First Response, a company contracted by the tanker's owner to help in the clean-up.

He warned that the dispersant was "very expensive. We're running out of funds to purchase the chemicals."

The oil spill has already polluted some 300 kilometers (180 miles) of coastline, including stretches of pristine beaches.

It has wrecked the island's tourism industry and threatened the livelihoods of hundreds of fishermen who struggle to clean up the oil with hand tools and improvised oil booms made of bamboo and wild grass.

The government said Sunday it would not hesitate to penalize senior officials who are found responsible for the oil spill.

"Of course there will be no sacred cow. The investigation will be fair and thorough, that's the instruction of the president," said Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo.

He said President Gloria Arroyo had appointed senior cabinet members to a task force looking into the spill.

Arroyo flew over Guimaras Saturday to personally examine the extent of damage and is likely to visit the site again on Monday, the presidential palace said.

The president has already declared the Guimaras oil spill a national calamity.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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