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Philippines: UN dispatches experts after ferry carrying toxic cargo capsizes

Philippines: UN dispatches experts after ferry carrying toxic cargo capsizes

A team consisting of experts from the United Nations and the European Union is being sent today to the Philippines to assess the situation of a capsized ferry containing large quantities of highly toxic chemicals.

The “Princess of the Stars” ferry boat capsized on 21 June about three kilometres from the shore of Sibuyan Island in the central Philippines, as Typhoon Fengshen was moving through the area.

Only 56 of the 849 passengers on the ferry, bound for Cebu Island, survived. The rest remain unaccounted for and are believed to be 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.

“If not handled properly, this could be a disaster upon a disaster,” said Vladimir Sakharov, Chief of the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit (JEU) – a collaborative effort between the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) that mobilizes and coordinates international response to environmental emergencies.

“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,” he warned.

Officials are particularly concerned about 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.

The joint team, comprising a marine chemist, an eco-toxicologist and a civil protection expert, is expected to spend one week in the Philippines to assess the situation, including determining the priority needs, and report on its findings.

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 OCHA.