International Journal
on Marine Navigation
and Safety of Sea Transportation
Volume 1
Number 3
September 2007
The Semirara Oil Spill: Its Implications to
Maritime Legislations
M. Magramo
John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University, Iloilo City, Philippines
ABSTRACT: In the stormy morning of December 18, 2005, Power Barge 106 operated by the National Power
Corporation (NAPOCOR) ran aground some 200 meters off Barangay Semirara. Approximately 364,120
liters, equivalent to 1,734 barrels or 364 tons of bunker oil was spilled in the area. The study unraveled the
circumstances which led to the grounding of the tugboat and the barge off Semirara Island: the captain going
near a coral reef and taking the very big risk of grounding; responsible person handling the wheel of the
tugboat at the time of the grounding; the supervisor’s competence and qualifications as deck officer; the
position of the vessel prior to grounding; the navigational equipment of the tugboat; and the absence of
clearance from the Coast Guard. Findings revealed that the captain of the tugboat towing the power barge did
not inform the Coast Guard about the incident.
On December 18, 2005, at 11:48, Power Barge 106
operated by the National Power Corporation ran
aground off Barangay Semirara.
The grounding ruptured tanks 3 and 4 of the
power barge which caused a massive oil spill along
the seashores of the island. This was aggravated by
the huge waves pounding on the reef.
The National Power Corporation blamed the
inclement weather for the incident. The oil spill had
contaminated 236 hectares of mangrove forests and
40 square kilometers of marine life including the fish
sanctuary off the coast of Semirara.
It was the worst oil spill in the Philippines
according to the Coast Guard. The vessel was
estimated to be carrying 800, 000 liters of bunker oil.
Clean-up was projected to last for six months, was
estimated to cost Ps 90 million (Philippine Daily
Inquirer, Feb. 3, 2006).
Aware of this development related to the incident,
the JBLCF was moved to do its share by determining
the implications of the oil spill to maritime legislation.
This study aimed to determine and present the
1 The underlying factors and circumstances which
resulted in the oil spill,
2 The implications of the oil spill to maritime
legislations, particularly those concerning the
Philippine Coast Guard; and
3 The implications of the oil spill to safe navigation
and passage planning.
This study maybe beneficial in terms of the
The data presented in this study maybe of
significance to the maritime-related government
agencies for they will be made aware of how
seriously and religiously are the maritime laws,
policies and regulations implemented and observed
in the country. The Semirara incident could be a
springboard for them to review and evaluate existing
maritime legislations and make decisions as to their
appropriateness and adequacy at present. They may
likewise be moved to conduct rigid regular
monitoring and inspection of sea vessels to prevent
tragic and harmful incidents like the Semirara oil
This study may also be found important by sea
vessel managements for the Semirara incident can
serve as reminder for them to take all possible
measures to prevent the occurrence of accidents such
as oil spill, which pose great danger to people and
the environment.
The Semirara oil spill, as presented in this
research, can serve as a model topic for discussion
and analyses among maritime faculty and students in
related subjects. Said discussion and analyses can
delve into the causes and triggering factors,
preventions, and effects of sea vessel accidents.
The ultimate beneficiary of this study are the
public in general and the marine environment for-
when precautionary measures are appropriately and
adequately made and taken by the authorities
concerned- seafaring vessels shall have been made
and become environment-friendly for the benefit of
human beings in the vicinity.
This descriptive-qualitative study looked into the
causes and extent of damage of the oil spill in
Semirara. It further looked into the implications of
the oil spill to the Coast Guard Regulations, safe
navigation and passage planning. Interviews and
documentary analysis were employed as techniques
in data-gathering.
5.1 Unanswered Questions
What were the circumstances which led to the
grounding of the tugboat and the barge on December
18, 2005 off Semirara Island? A seasoned captain or
master of a vessel would never go near a coral reef
because, by doing so, he would be taking a very big
risk of grounding. Who was handling the wheel of
the tugboat at the time of the grounding? Was he
under the supervision of a competent and licensed
deck officer? What was the position of the vessel
prior to its grounding? What electronic navigational
equipment did the tugboat have? Did the tugboat and
the barge being towed have clearance from the Coast
5.2 Bad Weather
How valid was the National Power Corporation’s
claim that bad weather caused the grounding of their
tugboat and barge? Or was there misjudgment on the
captain and management’s part to order the tugboat
and barge to proceed to Mindoro despite the low-
pressure warning in the Visayas area? Did they have
clearance from the Coast Guard station in Masbate?
Is it true that the NAPOCOR tugboat and barge,
being government vessels are exempted from
securing Coast Guard clearance?
Had the captain of the officers at tempted to
secure clearance from the Coast Guard as any
commercial vessel would usually do, they would not
have been allowed to sail in the bad weather. Had
they not sailed, they would not have run aground.
Had they not run aground, there would have been no
oil spill.
5.3 Negligence
In the event of an oil spill, the primary obligation of
the spiller is to inform the Philippine Coast Guard,
the agency responsible for preventing and
controlling pollution in the country’s territorial
Findings revealed that the master or captain of the
tugboat towing the power barge did not inform the
Coast Guard about the incident. They learned about
the spill only because Malayan towage informed
them that they were conducting a salvage operation
in Semirara.
5.4 Extent of Damage
The oil spill spread over 236 hectares of mangrove
forest. The area included 100 hectares of fully
grown mangrove, 56 hectares was reforested by
Semirara Mining Corporation and 80 hectares
reforested by the Department of Environment and
Natural Resources (DENR). A 40 sq. km. marine
area was also heavily affected, including declared
fish sanctuary. Bunker oil had likewise seeped in as
deep as three feet from the surface of a 5 km. stretch
of shoreline, resulting in heavy concentrations of
dead sea-grass in the area.
5.5 Actions to Contain the Oil Spill
A few days after the incident, an oil spill boom was
deployed in the area. A 120- meter solid boom was
positioned as barrier at Phase 1 of the area.
Meanwhile, a 60- meter fence-type boom was placed
as barrier at Kaybilo Cove. Unfortunately, the oil
spill boom was rendered useless during strong winds
and heavy seas.
5.6 Clean-up Operations
Clean-up operations were done both manually and
with the use of high-pressure compressors in the
application of oil dispersant.
Aside from the deployment of the oil spill boom
and the application of oil spill dispersant, manual
clean-up was also undertaken by 255 local work
force hired by the National Power Corporation in
coordination with the CENRO personnel and the
Barangay Captain Reynante J. Lim. Over-all clean-
up operation was done by the Philippine Coast
Guard with 23 personnel assigned to work at site of
the oil spill. The Coast Guard advised an improvised
oil-spill strainer made of bamboos and cogon grass
to contain the oil from spreading further into the
open sea.
A canal was also dug to facilitate the flow of
bunker oil from different areas under the mangroves
to a pit which served as reception facility. Using
drums, the local workers manually collected the oil
from the pit for transport to a safe place provided by
the barangay officials. The contaminated soil and
sand was collected in sacks and also transferred to,
and secured, in a permanent dumping site designated
by the CENRO Officer and the barangay officials.
5.7 Area Covered by the Clean-up Operations
As of January 30, 2006, only 6% of the area had
been cleaned manually and applied with oil spill
dispersant. A total of 9,640 liters (46 drums) of
dispersant had been applied, covering 40, 000 sq. m.
of the affected area.
Following are certain generalizations concerning the
Semirara oil spill incident:
1 Had correct maritime protocol been observed,
the Coast Guard would not have cleared the
NAPOCOR tugboat to sail and tow the power
barge from Masbate to Mindoro due to the bad
2 The route taken by the master of the tugboat
defied practical navigation principles. The chosen
route was, in the first place, not the safest and
shortest route from Masbate to Mindoro. The
tugboat could have opted for a safer alternative
route in accordance with established and accepted
principles in the practice of navigation.
In the light of the above generalizations, the
following are recommended:
To avoid other catastrophic incidents similar to
Semirara oil spill, the NAPOCOR management
should consider an evaluation of competencies
among its captains and officers in-charge of tugboats
towing power barges. A needs assessment training
will help in the enhancement of said competencies
among the personnel concerned.
The Philippine Coast Guard should strictly
require all vessels to secure a clearance from their
office prior to their departure. It is suggested that the
Coast Guard establish a vessel traffic service to
facilitate the passing vessels reporting in their
position, cargo and port of destination for close
monitoring of their movements.
The NAPOCOR management should require its
captains to prepare and submit a passage plan for
every intended voyage or trip. The NAPOCOR
should closely monitor that the passage plan is
strictly followed by the captains and officers in
command of the tugboats of the company.
The government through the Maritime Industry
Authority (MARINA) should implement the 2003
Amendment of the Marpol 73/78-the phasing out of
single hull tankers.
Baldomero E. (2006, January 14). Antique Provincial
Government to Sue Napocor Over Oil Spill. Panay News.
Burgos N.P. (2006, February 6). Boracay resort owners say Oil
spill no threat. Philippine Daily Inquirer. (A- 18).
Salaverria L.B. (2006, January 30). Semirara clean-up Urgent,
says PCG. Philippine Daily Inquirer. (A-15).
Tubeza P.C. (2006, February 3). Massive oil spill Threatens
white Boracay beaches.Philippine Daily Inquirer. (A1).