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Brussels, 10 July 2008
Capsized ferry in Philippines - EU and UN deploy joint expert team following reports of highly toxic cargo
A joint European Union – United Nations expert team is being deployed today to the Philippines at the request of national authorities to assess the situation of a capsized ferry containing large quantities of highly toxic chemicals.
"We must ensure that the human tragedy of this ferry collapse is not compounded by the leakage of these pesticides" said Stavros Dimas, Commissioner for the Environment and Civil Protection. "Europe is putting its solidarity with the Philippines into practice by providing its assistance. Our expertise has been highly valued in similar emergencies in recent years, and as ever we will do all we can to assist the people of the Philippines".
The 'Princess of the Stars' ferry boat capsized on Saturday 21 June about three kilometers from the shore of Sibuyan Island in the central Philippines, as Typhoon Fengshen was moving through the area.
The ferry, bound for Cebu Island, central Visayas, was carrying 849 passengers. Only 56 survived, while the rest remain unaccounted for, believed to have been trapped inside the ferry. Efforts to recover the bodies were suspended following the discovery of a cargo of large quantities of highly toxic pesticides, in addition to an estimated 100,000 litres of fuel.
Of particular concern are the chemicals endosulfan, carbofuran, and methamidophos. Unknown quantities of other highly toxic pesticides - namely antracol, tamaron, nicolsamide and carbamate – have been reported to be among the cargo.
Potentially further complicating matters is the current typhoon season, which could wreak havoc on the stability of the capsized vessel.
“If not handled properly, this could be a disaster upon a disaster,” stated Vladimir Sakharov, Chief of the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit (JEU). “Leakage of the ferry’s toxic cargo would cause major ecological damage and thereby have a terrible impact on the livelihoods of people living in the region.”
The team, comprising a marine chemist, an eco-toxicologist and a civil protection expert, is expected to spend one week in the Philippines to help provide a clear overview of the situation, determine priority needs, and identify any gaps in international aid being offered and/or provided.
The mission is a joint initiative of the European Commission’s Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) and the JEU, integrated into the Emergency Services Branch of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
The mission will be supported on-site by the Government of the Philippines, the EU Delegation, and relevant UN agencies in-country – most notably the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Findings and recommendations, including possible additional international assistance, will be reported by the expert team at the conclusion of its mission.
The Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC), operated by the European Commission in Brussels, is the operational heart of the Community Mechanism for Civil Protection. It is available on a 24/7 basis, and provides countries access to the community civil protection platform. Any country affected by a major disaster – inside or outside the EU – can launch a request for assistance through the MIC. During emergencies the MIC plays three important roles: serving as a communications hub for the exchange of requests and offers of assistance; providing information on civil protection preparedness and response to participating states as well as a wider audience of interested stakeholders; supporting co-ordination of the provision of European assistance.
Further information can be found here: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/civil/prote/mic.htm
The Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit (JEU) is a collaborative effort between two UN bodies – the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) – that mobilizes and coordinates international response to environmental emergencies. It serves to mobilize and coordinate international assistance for environmental emergencies, and helps countries to improve their preparedness to respond to environmental emergencies. The JEU works with affected countries to identify and mitigate acute negative impacts stemming from emergencies, providing independent, impartial advice and practical solutions. It also works with organizations dedicated to medium and long-term rehabilitation to ensure a seamless transition to the disaster recovery process.
Further information can be found here: http://ochaonline.un.org/ToolsServices/EmergencyRelief/EnvironmentalEmergencies/JointEnvironmentUnit/tabid/1459/Default.aspx