Cyprus terms international meeting on oil spill “constructive”
People's Daily Online, China, 18 August 2006
Cyprus on Thursday praised an international meeting in Piraeus, Greece, for coordinating efforts to address the pollution resulting from an oil spill that threatens the eastern Mediterranean.
Minister of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment Fotis Fotiou made the remarks upon returning home from Greece after the Piraeus meeting organized by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the UN Environment Program (UNEP).
The meeting adopted an action plan to be implemented immediately, he told the press, adding that the 50 million euros anti-pollution action plan is divided into three parts, two of which will come into force immediately.
The oil spill, estimated to be one of the largest ever to affect the Mediterranean, follows an incident in mid-July, in which an oil storage unit at a power plant in Jiyyeh, 30 km south of Beirut, sustained Israeli bombing damage during the recent Israel-Hezbollah fighting.
Asked who will shoulder the cost of 50 million euros needed for the plan implementation, Fotiou said that participants at the meeting discussed the possibility to ask Israel to contribute financially and in other ways to the efforts.
"We will see in a few days," he said, adding that he intends to meet with Israeli ambassador to Cyprus to discuss the matter.
Fotiou also revealed that the European Union (EU) is undertaking an important part of the cost, while other countries have expressed their commitment to assist to the efforts.
Un Agencies Agree On Clean-Up Plan To Tackle Oil Spill Polluting Lebanon And Syria
United Nations agencies backed a wide-ranging multimillion dollar action plan today to tackle up to 15,000 tonnes of fuel oil that spewed into the Mediterranean Sea, killing marine life and affecting around 150 kilometres of Lebanese and Syrian coastline, after a power utility was damaged last month during the fighting between Israel and Hizbollah.
The plan, which envisages an initial cost of around $64 million with possibly more funds needed next year, was agreed to at a meeting convened by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the UN Environment Programme (<"http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=484&ArticleID=5334&l=en">UNEP) in Athens, Greece, and which also involved countries in the region and the European Commission.
“Now the bombs have stopped and the guns have been silenced we have a chance to rapidly assess the true magnitude of the problem and finally mobilize the support for an oil clean-up and a restoration of the coastline,” said Achim Steiner, UNEP’s Executive Director.
“The experts are on standby and today the international community have agreed on an action plan. I sincerely hope we have secured the financial backing to swiftly and comprehensively deliver on this promise to the Lebanese people, on this request to the UN for assistance from the Lebanese authorities,” he added.
The International Assistance Action Plan envisages three stages of response, namely priority short-term actions – including immediate helicopter aerial surveys to determine the extent of the pollution; medium-term actions – including a workforce of 300 people cleaning up to 30 sites simultaneously; and long-term actions to assess the lessons learned.
“I am delighted that we have been able to agree on this action plan which now sets the stage for the wide-ranging assistance the Lebanese and, to a lesser extent, the Syrian authorities so urgently need,” said Efthimios Mitropoulos, Secretary-General of the IMO.
Several countries have offered clean-up and oil containment equipment and the Plan recommends that each donor providing equipment should also make available one or several specialists to train local staff in its use. It also highlights a “continually evolving scenario demanding a move, for example, from vacuum trucks and pumps to mechanical grabs as the oil becomes more viscous.
The Plan has been prepared by the Experts Working Group for Lebanon under the supervision of the UNEP-Mediterranean Action Plan’s Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC) and the Minister of the Environment of Lebanon.
Sun.Star, Philippines, By Rox Peña, 18 August 2006
RECENTLY, I had a chance to communicate with a batch mate in high school who is now residing in New York. In our kumustahan, she mentioned among other things the ongoing heat wave in New York and the inconveniences that it has brought them. Residents prefer to stay indoors with air conditioners running all day long to stay cool and comfortable. This resulted in increased demand for electricity.
In the New York City website, authorities reported that power grids are carrying record-setting loads, so they initiated power conservation measures in government offices and facilities and urged citizens, schools and businesses to do the same. There are blackouts in some areas. My batch mate said that the City Mayor rented air-conditioned buses for people to sleep into.
The temperature had reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degree centigrade), quite normal in the Philippines but unbearable to New Yorkers. The City's Emergency Operations Center has declared a Heat Emergency and has put in place measures to protect its citizens. News reports say that 22 people died, mostly elderly.
This heat wave is nothing compared to what happened in Europe in 2003. The unusually warm weather is said to be the hottest that Europe experienced in at least 500 years. Hospitals, undertakers and funeral homes were overwhelmed. According to the Earth Policy Institute, the final death toll of this devastating heat wave was more than 52,000.
Many analysts are quick to point at global warming as the cause of this heat wave. But some scientists caution against issuing such sweeping statements. Climate change is influenced by many factors, both natural and human. On the cause of the heat wave in Europe, some write-ups say that its origins were a climatic phenomenon known for many decades as the "jet stream," strong winds whirling around the North Pole, which has a decisive influence on the Northern Hemisphere and the rest of the world.
But yes, studies show that the Earth has indeed warmed up by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 100 years and most scientists believe that human activities have contributed to this. In 1988, the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) and the World Meteorological Organization set up the International Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) to examine the most current scientific information on global warming and climate change.
The IPPC concluded in its Third Assessment Report that an increasing body of observations gives a collective picture of a warming world and other changes in the climate system. Examples of observed climatic changes are: decrease of snow cover and sea ice extent and the retreat of mountain glaciers in the latter half of the 20th century; rise in global average sea level and the increase in ocean water temperatures. Examples of observed physical and ecological changes are: thawing of permafrost; earlier flowering of trees; earlier emergence of insects; earlier egg laying in birds; and decline of some plant and animal species.
Deforestation and the release heat-trapping gas due to our use of fossil fuel for vehicles and power generation are some of the man-made causes of global warming. Our response as ordinary citizens is to plant trees, conserve electricity and cut down on the use of our vehicles. Government must plan for the gradual shift to renewable energy.
The need to rush the development of renewable sources of energy is not just dictated by global warming. Our supply is drying up. There are reports saying that the known reserves of crude oil are good only for 40 years, and coal for about 200 years. This will buy us some time until we find the technology to harvest the full potential of renewable energy sources.
Representatives from the European Union (EU), International Maritime Organization (IMO) and Nairobi-based UN Environment Program (UNEP) held talks on Thursday on ways to help contain an oil spill off the coast of Lebanon.
The oil slick, which occurred during Israeli month-long bombardment, has polluted more than 140 km of shoreline, including parts of Syria, according to UN.
Agencies represented include the International Maritime Organization and the UN Environment Program.
They joined EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas, Greek Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis and government officials from Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Cyprus.
The slick was caused by the bombing of a power station near Beirut, spilling some 15,000 tons of oil into the Mediterranean.
Experts meet in Greece to discuss oil spill strategy
India eNews.com, India, Thursday, August 17th, 2006
Athens/Brussels, Aug 17 (DPA) Experts from several Mediterranean states and international organisations began a meeting in Piraeus, near Athens, on Thursday to discuss ways to combat an oil spill threatening the coasts of Lebanon and Syria.
At the same time, European Union (EU) officials in Brussels said that Norwegian helpers had arrived in Lebanon to help in the oil cleanup activities.
The spill was caused by Israeli air strikes in mid-July against oil tanks at a Lebanese power plant near the coast some 30 km south of Beirut, with some 15,000 tonnes of heavy heating oil pouring directly into the sea.
Complicating the situation was an Israeli naval blockade off Lebanon’s coast, thus thwarting efforts to prevent the oil spill from spreading, officials said.
Representatives from Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus, Turkey and Greece were taking part in the Piraeus meeting, as well as those from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), and EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas.
Israel was not represented, Greek state radio said.
Cypriot delegation sources said ahead of the meeting that the oil spill had spread to a length of some 140 km, reaching up to the Syrian port city of Latakia.
Sea currents were driving clumps of oil onto the shorelines of Lebanon and Syria.
An EU Commission spokeswoman in Brussels said that Norwegian helpers were now involved in the oil cleanup operations.
Regarding the deliberations in Piraeus, she said that the aim is to map out a ‘plan of action’ by the international community for the effort to clean up the oil spill.
Electronic cards tracking personal quotas for greenhouse gases are among the most radical ideas for getting citizens to cut use of fossil fuels, widely blamed by scientists for fuelling global warming.
Following are some links to Web sites of governments, climate experts, environmental groups and companies with tips for lifestyle changes to cut individuals' use of oil, coal and natural gas.
Most focus on suggestions such as installing energy saving lightbulbs or using public transport -- far short of rationing.
The US Environmental Protection Agency advises citizens with "climate smart tips to protect the earth":
The European Commission says: "You control climate change ... Turn down. Switch off. Recycle. Walk. Change."
Its site says, for instance, that turning down the thermostat in a home by one degree Celsius (1.8F) can save 300 kg (660 lb) of carbon dioxide per household per year. West Europeans account for about 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide each a year.
Canada's government provides a "greenhouse gas calculator" to make people aware of how much energy they use and where they can cut:
The UN Climate Change Secretariat says that changing lifestyles can help. The "cultures and habits of millions of people -- essentially, whether they waste energy or use it efficiently -- have a major impact on climate change," it says.
British expert David Fleming favours energy rationing, to include allowances for all citizens, in a system he calls "tradable energy quotas":
Britain's Environment Secretary David Miliband also floated the idea of personal quotas in a speech in July:
Greenpeace lays out what it calls "12 clever ways to save lots of electricity and money (and by the way: also the planet)"
The WWF says "there's no need to wait for politicians to act" and gives recommendations for slowing global warming:
Some companies will help citizens invest in clean energy schemes or plant trees to soak up emissions of greenhouse gases. They include:
About 10.6 million rai in 52 provinces has proven to be flood-prone, Land Development Department (LDD) director-general Chaiwat Sitthibus said yesterday.
The land, both private and public, will be included in a new LDD mapping project, which will be used to devise a flood and water management scheme.
About 900,000 rai was flooded eight to 10 times a year while 3.4 million rai had been flooded four to seven times over the past 10 years.
The rest, about 6.3 million rai, had suffered from flooding less than three times in the past decade.
Meanwhile, a charity under the patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Soamsavali, has been providing free drinking water and three meals a day to flood-hit residents in Prachuap Khiri Khan province.
A total of 10,000 sets of medical supplies and 700 bags of relief material are being distributed among those affected in neighbouring Chumphon, where one man died from electrocution last night after flash-floods had streamed into his house.
A weather report yesterday forecast heavy rains would lash 50 to 70 per cent of the Northeast from tomorrow until Tuesday and that the rains would let up in other regions, including Bangkok.
People living in low-lying areas in the Northeast are advised to prepare for flash floods.
Evacuation and other emergency drills are being conducted in most flood-prone provinces, the Interior Ministry said.
Illegal wildlife trade takes heavy toll in Vietnam
Cosmos, Australia - Aug 15, 2006, by Frank Zeller, Agençe Presse-France
Vietnam has a wealth of unusual animals, many of them only recently discovered by science. But some experts warn that unless the illegal trade in these creatures ends, Vietnam may become famous only for the species that have become extinct.
Snarling inside a cage and licking its wounds, a clouded leopard is recovering from being wire-trapped by poachers.
The jungle feline is one lucky cat.
It was rescued last month when Vietnamese guards surprised a trafficker carrying the sedated animal near the Chinese border.
But while the 18-kilogram female is now recuperating in an animal rescue centre, alongside black bears, gibbons and other rare species, many more wild animals end up in restaurants, traditional pharmacies and souvenir shops.
Southeast Asia's forests, a biological treasure trove, have become a gold mine for wildlife traffickers, say ecologists.
And Vietnam has become a major Asian crossroads, with animals being smuggled from Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma), Indonesia and as far as India for sale locally and for export to China, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong.
"This clouded leopard could have earned the smugglers 70 million dong (A$5,700)," said Nguyen Van Nhung, a veterinarian at the Hanoi Wild Animal Rescue Centre.
"Its meat would have been eaten and its bones ground up for medicine," he said, pointing at the animal now pacing in its metal cage. "People believe it makes them stronger."
In the decade since the centre opened it has only received one other clouded leopard, said director Ngo Ba Oanh, which may be testimony to the heavy toll the trade has taken on Vietnam's natural environment.
"The cases that are picked up are the tip of the iceberg," said Eric Coull, Greater Mekong representative of conservation group WWF.
Over-exploitation for the illegal wildlife trade now rivals habitat destruction as a major threat to the survival of many species, he said.
"Nowhere is this more evident than in Vietnam, where wildlife populations are dwindling at an alarming rate due to illegal trade and consumption."
The animals at the rescue centre are a cross-section of the species being slowly wiped out. There are gibbons found in a Hanoi cafe, black bears confiscated as cubs near the Lao border, and macaques from the Mekong delta.
Nguyen Van Song of the Hanoi Agricultural University estimates 3,000 tonnes of wildlife and wildlife products are shipped in and out of Vietnam every year, with only about three per cent intercepted.
Half of the trade is for domestic consumption, the other half for export, he said in a report, mainly through the Chinese border crossings at Lang Son and Mong Cai, the area where the clouded leopard was found.
Song believes up to 3,500 kilograms of illegal wildlife goods pass through these border towns daily, including pangolins, lizards, turtles, cobras, pythons, monkeys, bears and tigers.
Smugglers have used ambulances, wedding cars and funeral hearses to smuggle the contraband, or hired foot porters through middlemen so they cannot reveal their bosses' identities if caught.
Permits and licenses are sometimes forged, and customs officials threatened or bribed, Song wrote, blaming "influential people", a euphemism for organised crime.
Like people elsewhere in East Asia, Vietnamese often express pride in their adventurous culinary tastes.
A popular saying in the region goes: "We can eat anything with four feet except the table. We can eat anything in the ocean except submarines. We can eat anything in the sky except planes."
Some wild animals are killed for their skins, to be stuffed or to make trinkets from tiger and bear teeth, ivory or turtle shell. Others end up in illegal private zoos. But three quarters die to be consumed, said Song.
Wildlife meat, and the wines and medicines made from it, have traditionally been believed to have healing and tonic properties in many Asian cultures.
"Many Vietnamese people believe that consuming wildlife products promotes good physical health, often paying exorbitant prices for products and meats derived from endangered species," said another WWF official.
Sulma Warne of wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC said he recently learnt of a case where a group of men paid thousands of dollars to commission a tiger, which was killed in Myanmar, dissected and smuggled in parts to Vietnam.
"It's a status symbol," Warne said. "The fact that you can get tiger meat shows you have money. It's illegal, it's difficult to get. It's like caviar."
A recent survey by WWF and TRAFFIC found that nearly half of Hanoi's residents had personally used wildlife products, a trend the groups plan to tackle with a public awareness campaign being launched later this month.
In Ho Chi Minh City, a survey of 1,600 restaurants by the group Wild Animal Rescue found 15 wild species on the menu, among them deer, snake and turtle.
"Vietnam is getting richer, but people also believe in ancient medicine and showing off their wealth and power by eating these endangered species," said Edwin Wiek of the Indonesia-based Borneo Orangutan Survival foundation.
"Vietnam is definitely a very big player in this market, unfortunately. It is a consumer as much as a transfer point."
Wiek has long monitored the trade, especially in primates, and recently returned two orangutans to Indonesia from an illegal hotel zoo near Ho Chi Minh City that also kept 70 bears, a tiger, monkeys and exotic birds.
"For some people, having a Ferrari outside their front door is not enough," said Wiek. "You have to have a chimpanzee or an orangutan in your backyard as well. Then you're really the man."
Over the past decade, biologists have been stunned to find that Vietnam, shut off for decades by war and politics, has rainforests far more species-diverse than previously known.
In 1992, researchers here discovered the saola, the world's largest new mammal found in over half a century. The forest-dwelling ox was not just a new species but also a new genus.
Since then a one-horned rhinoceros thought extinct in mainland Asia was rediscovered and biologists found three new deer species, 63 vertebrates and 45 unknown fish, says the recently-published 'Vietnam: A Natural History'.
Yet scientists are racing against time to catalogue the new animals before they are gone.
Many of Vietnam's wild areas have become denuded habitats, sometimes dubbed "empty forests." More than 300 animal species have disappeared and over 100 are threatened.
With virgin rainforests now reduced to a patchwork, fewer than 100 tigers, 100 wild elephants and 10 rhinos are believed to survive in the wild in Vietnam, their gene pools already too small to ensure their survival here.
Vietnam banned hunting without a permit in 1975 and has signed several treaties, including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Yet enforcement is often weak, Song said, and the estimated profit of the illegal wildlife trade 30 times larger than state spending to combat it.
As long as demand grows, experts agree, the illegal trade will grow and continue to threaten the biological heritage of Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
"Vietnam has become famous over the past 15 years for the discovery of new species," said the WWF's Coull. "It could become famous for their extinction."
Taipei Times, Taiwan , Global warming is contributing to an unusually harsh typhoon season in China that started around a month early and has left thousands dead or missing, government officials and experts said.
"The natural disasters caused by typhoons in our country have been many this year," the head of the China Meteorological Administration, Qin Dahe, said in recent comments on his organization's Web site.
"Against the backdrop of global warming, more and more strong and unusual climatic and atmospheric events are taking place," he said.
"The strength of typhoons are increasing, the destructiveness of typhoons that have made landfall is greater and the scope in which they are travelling is farther than normal," he said.
The vice minister of the Ministry of Water Resources, E. Jingping, also spoke last week about the unusual ferocity, frequency and earliness of typhoons in China this year.
He said the typhoon season in China normally starts around July 27, but this year the first typhoon hit the southern province of Guangdong on May 18.
"This is the earliest typhoon to hit Guangdong since 1949," he said in a speech.
Natural disasters in China this year have killed 1,699 people and left 415 missing, the nation's Red Cross Society said last week.
More than 1,300 of those died in weather-related incidents from May to the end of last month, the government reported earlier.
Those reports came before the arrival on last Thursday of Saomai, the eighth typhoon of the season and the strongest to hit China in 50 years.
Saomai killed at least 214 people, mostly in the two eastern coastal provinces of Zhejiang and Fujian, according to figures released yesterday.
The president of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute, Lester Brown said that the weather in China over the past few months was reflective of the worldwide extent of the problem of global warming.
"The emerging consensus in the scientific community is that higher temperatures bring more frequent and more destructive storms," Brown said.
"Our seasons seem to be beginning earlier and ending later," he said.
According to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the earth's average temperature has risen by 0.8?C since 1970, he said.
But this is only the beginning of what the UN's International Panel on Climate Change believes will be a rise in temperature for this century of 1.4?C to 5.8?C.
"Just imagine what typhoons and hurricanes might be like in the future," Brown said.
Simply put, the storms are caused when warmer oceanic and atmospheric currents interact with cooler currents in tropic and sub-tropical regions, experts say.
Many of the cooler oceanic currents stem from the melting of the polar ice caps that is occurring due to rising global temperatures, said Edwin Lau, who monitors global warming at Friends of the Earth in Hong Kong.
"The hurricanes and typhoons are due to hot air rising... and the hotter the air, the spinning of the hurricanes is faster, picking up more water," Lau said.
Meanwhile, as some areas of China are hit by more typhoons and the resulting floods, other areas are suffering from intense drought, which experts say is another by-product of global warming.
In a landmark report in the mid-1990s, the UN panel on climate change predicted that global warming would leave southern China drenched with more rains, while the north and west of the country would suffer worsening droughts.
In Sichuan Province, directly to the west of where much of the devastation from the typhoons has occurred, nearly seven million people are currently inurgent need of drinking water due to a severe drought, state press said on Friday.
In the southwestern city of Chongqing, the drought is beginning to threaten the water supply for about 17 million people, according to another state press report.
SINGAPORE - Singaporean Kom Mam Sun ran his Nissan truck on biodiesel fuel for two years to test his business idea of turning used cooking oil from restaurants into fuel for vehicles.
The experiment was such a success that the 32-year-old entrepreneur opened his first biodiesel plant in June and has already made S$50,000 (US$31,600) in profits.
"My customers in the construction industry are happy with biodiesel so far as it's better and cleaner especially when they deal with heavy machinery," Kom said.
Kom's venture highlights growing interest in Singapore, Asia's largest oil-refining centre, in the potentially lucrative biofuels industry in the face of rising conventional fuel prices.
Singapore is well placed to develop such an industry as it has easy access to palm oil, a key biodiesel ingredient, from its neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia. Both countries together produce about 80 percent of the world's palm oil supply.
"Biodiesel is a sustainable and renewable fuel that is friendly to the environment," said John Hall, global marketing director of Germany-based Peter Cremer Gruppe energy business.
Peter Cremer (Singapore), the Asian arm of Germany's Cremer Gruppe, plans to set up a US$20 million plant in Singapore by May 2007 with enough capacity to produce 200,000 tonnes of biodiesel.
"We are using a feedstock that is renewable in that it can be harvested and grown again, whereas once you use the earth's oil reserves they cannot be replenished," Hall said.
The firm would sell the fuel at US$40 per barrel to earn a profit, he said.
Given record crude oil prices of more than US$70 per barrel, many countries including the United States are trying to encourage the use of biofuel to reduce dependence on crude oil.
The European Union has set a 2010 target for biofuels to comprise at least 5.75 percent of the transport fuel supply.
"Global trends are driving the development of agricultural products into new sources of energy and materials," said Teo Ming Kian, chairman of Singapore's Economic Development Board.
But despite being renewable, biofuels might not be as friendly to the environment as they seem, say environmentalists.
Friends of the Earth and British political activist George Monbiot say the expansion of the biofuel industry could lead to deforestation as plantations to provide the renewable fuel are established on land cleared of rain forests.
In a September 2005 report, Friends of the Earth said that palm oil plantations were responsible for an estimated 87 percent of deforestation in Malaysia.
"In terms of its impact on both the local and global environments, palm biodiesel is more destructive than crude oil," Monbiot wrote on his Web site.
Energy analysts doubt whether biodiesel products will lead to a reduction of dependence on conventional fuels.
"The fuel market is so big that biodiesel can't make a significant difference and will only be a small fraction of the overall diesel use in Asia," said energy analyst Victor K. Shum.
"But with oil prices so high these days, biodiesel does get more and more cost-effective," he added.
As for the Singaporean entrepreneur Kom, he's not concerned about competition thanks to low overheads and a direct-selling strategy.
"I have my truck which I've been testing out the biodiesel on and it's been my advertisement on the go. That's all I need," said Kom with a laugh.
Overfishing and increasing pollution are destroying one of the world's great fishing grounds in the East China Sea, Chinese state media said Wednesday.
Eighty-one percent of the sea has been rated in the second-worst of five pollution grades, up from just 53 percent in 2000, the Xinhua news agency reported. Known in China as the Zhoushan Fishery, the East China Sea was previously listed among the world's largest fisheries with 20,800 square kilometers (8,300 square miles) providing a tenth of China's total catch in 2002.
The Zhoushan Fishery Bureau said on Tuesday that the annual catch dropped from over 1.3 million tons in 2001 to 980,000 tons last year, Xinhua said.
Petrochemical waste and heavy-metal sediments are among the main contaminants, the report said.
The rise in pollution levels in the East China Sea also has an indirect economic impact, as less fish means fewer jobs for fishermen, according to Xinhua. It said the number of people employed in the Zhoushan fishing industry had fallen from a high of 250,000 to an estimated 210,000 in recent years.
UPDATE - Stench of Fuel Hangs Over Philippine Marine Park
TAKLONG ISLAND, Philippines - The waters of the Taklong marine reserve in the central Philippines glisten in the sunlight but stink of fuel as thick sludge washes ashore.
As disaster workers and residents of nearby villages tried again on Thursday to contain last week's oil spill from a sunken tanker off the island of Guimaras, worries were growing about the impact on fish, plants, people and tourism in the area.
"My fear is all the mangrove trees will die," said Joseph Gajo, a caretaker at the 1,143-ha (2,857-acre) marine reserve. "If the mangroves and coral die, this will affect fishermen."
The mangroves, coral reefs and seagrass beds of Taklong, on the southern tip of Guimaras island, serve as a feeding and nursery ground for 144 species of fish and other sea creatures.
Along the coastline, men were putting up nets to try to keep the spill from washing ashore. In another area, rubber boats were being used as barriers.
The provincial government declared Guimaras a disaster zone after the spill of about 200,000 litres of bunker oil on Friday.
Chartered by Petron Corp., the largest oil refiner in the Philippines, the tanker was carrying about 2 million litres of the industrial fuel when it sank in rough seas.
Virginia Ruivivar, a Petron spokeswoman, said the cost of the clean up and any losses incurred by the company from the spill would be covered by insurance.
"What we are trying to do is to help the community in the clean up efforts," she said. "We are hoping that the rest of the cargo will remain intact where it is."
Officials have warned that the pollution could take three years to clean up, with more than 15,000 people and 200 km (120 miles) of coastline affected.
"We have no catch, we are leaving now. We can't stand the smell of bunker oil," one of two fisherman shouted as they paddled a small boat near the marine reserve.
The spill of about 200 tonnes of oil is the worst to hit the Philippines but pales against the world's biggest accident, the 1979 collision between the Atlantic Empress and another vessel that leaked 287,000 tonnes into the sea off Tobago.
Still, Philippine officials fear a wider disaster if the estimated 1,800 tonnes still inside the sunken tanker seep out.
"The ship is divided into 10 tanks. Each tank contains 200,000 litres," Arthur Gosingan, head of the Coast Guard, said. "We hope none of the remaining tanks will rupture."
Some families have moved away from the shores of Guimaras, about 470 km (290 miles) south of Manila, as the fuel washes up on beaches, staining sand and trees.
Health officials have advised residents not to eat anything from the contaminated waters but some people, dependent on the sea for food, have ignored the warning.
Environmental group Greenpeace said the Philippines must hold Petron and its partners accountable for the damage.
"We will go after those who may be found responsible and liable for this environmental catastrophe," said Ignacio Bunye, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's spokesman.
"In the meantime, let us focus our energies and resources on a fast clean up to prevent the spread of pollution." (With reporting by Karen Lema)
KARACHI - Widespread flooding hit Pakistan's biggest city on Thursday amid heavy rainfall, and at least five people were electrocuted by power cables dangling in flood waters, rescue workers said.
Weather officials said more heavy rain was expected in the southern city of Karachi over the next two days.
"We are getting reports of casualties in different areas but our ambulances can't move because of the flooded roads," said Rizwan Edhi, a senior official of the Edhi Trust, which runs the country's largest ambulance service.
Five people had been confirmed killed, he said.
The flooding in Pakistan's commercial capital stranded thousands of workers in their offices and in traffic jams.
"It is a chaotic situation in the city. Civic services have collapsed," Edhi said.
Considerable damage was also feared in the countryside.
"We are expecting a lot of damage in villages and low-lying areas in upper Sindh," said weather official Shaukat Awan, referring to the southern province of Sindh of which Karachi is capital.
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Supreme Court said on Thursday the controversial Norwegian cruise liner, Blue Lady, should not be dismantled without its permission.
Blue Lady has beached at India's ship-breaking yard at Alang in Gujarat. Environmentalists, led by Greenpeace, say the 46,000-tonne ship contains more than 900 tonnes of toxic waste like asbestos, risking the health of poorly equipped ship-breakers at Alang.
"Breaking cannot take place without our orders," the court said, when it was told the ship had beached at Alang.
The petitioner representing the environmentalists sought orders restraining authorities from breaking up the ship. The court declined this but said: "If it's done without our orders, we shall deal with it."
In June the court allowed Blue Lady to enter Indian waters but appointed an expert committee to look into how much toxic waste was on board, before it could be broken.
The committee has to formally submit its findings to the court but senior Alang port officials said earlier this month the panel had cleared Blue Lady and it was ready to be scrapped, raising concern among environmentalists.
In February, the French government recalled the former aircraft carrier Clemenceau, which had been heading for Alang, after a lengthy campaign by Greenpeace, which said the ship carried toxic waste.
A Greenpeace report published last year said thousands of workers in the ship-breaking industry in countries such as India, China and Pakistan had probably died over the past two decades in accidents or due to exposure to toxic waste.
Eastern and southern parts of the nation can expect heavy rainfall this weekend as a typhoon approaches the peninsula at a fast speed from Japan, the national weather agency said yesterday.
By Friday afternoon, eastern and southern regions are expected to be indirectly affected by Typhoon Wukong, the Korea Metrological Administration said.
Between 10 and 60 millimeters of rain are expected in the south and 40 to 80 millimeters in the east.
Parts of the east may see up to 120 millimeters of rain, raising fears about additional damage to the region, which was recently hit by seasonal floods.
Searing heat has evolved into a crisis that has forced Chongqing the worst-affected to introduce contingency plans for power and water supplies.
The municipal government is advising people to seek shelter from high temperatures, which hovered above 40 C in the past week, and allowed employees to take days off from work till conditions become more bearable.
Temperatures in suburban Qijiang county soared to 44.5 C on Wednesday a national record for 53 years and the once-busy streets were almost empty yesterday as most people chose to stay at home.
Chongqing, a city of 31 million, is the hardest hit by the drought nationwide. It has had no rain for more than 70 days and two-thirds of its rivers have gone dry, local drought-relief authorities said yesterday.
More than 7.7 million people and 7.2 million head of cattle face a shortage of drinking water in the 40 districts and counties, said He Lingyun, a disaster relief official with the municipal government.
"This is the worst drought to hit Chongqing in 50 years," he said.
About 2.7 million hectares of crops in Chongqing and neighbouring Sichuan Province have been destroyed, with the total loss reaching 9.9 billion yuan, according to local agriculture authorities.
Water is rationed in the downtown areas of Chongqing, and farmers have to trudge long distances in the countryside to fetch it.
Most crops have withered under the scorching sun, and at least 1.3 million hectares of farmland has been affected, said He.
Li Shikui from Huangjing Village of Qijiang estimated that more than 70 per cent of the rice crop of the village would be destroyed and "we might have food shortages next year."
Gu Qixiu, a villager in Zhangguan town, Yubei District, said "the village well has gone dry and even the dusty water at the bottom has been scooped up."
Chongqing has mobilized 6.2 million people and more than 13,000 vehicles, and allocated 140 million yuan (US$17.5 million) to combat the drought.
The local meteorological station forecast that the hot weather would continue till the month-end.
Elsewhere in the country:
3 million people in Sichuan Province do not have adequate drinking water.
In Central China's Hunan Province, drinking water shortages have affected 270,000 people since June. The temperature has topped 40 C over the past days.
More than 333,000 hectares of farmland in 40 cities and counties across Hunan has been affected.
Gansu, Ningxia, and Inner Mongolia in the northwestern and northern parts of the country have also been affected by severe drought.
The Central Meteorological Administration forecast yesterday that the temperatures in eastern Xinjiang, southern Shaanxi, areas south of the Yangtze River, and central Anhui are expected to range from 35-41 C.
TOKYO - Japan, the world's third-largest oil consumer, will set out nationwide biodiesel standards this year in an effort to kick-start demand, but will not force refiners to sell it, government officials said on Thursday.
Lagging international moves to use more biofuel to battle soaring crude oil prices and help ease global warming, Japan hopes the law -- allowing about 5 percent of fatty acid-derived fuel in diesel -- will spur more sales of green fuels made from renewable sources such as soybeans and sugar.
Given gasoline-oriented Japan's limited diesel consumption and lack of incentives, however, the take-up from consumers and refiners is likely to be tepid at first, officials conceded.
"The legislation is expected to be passed by the end of this year, and the law will become effective by the end of this fiscal year (to March 2007)," an official at the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, a unit of the trade ministry, told Reuters.
Japan now allows oil companies to blend about 3 percent of ethanol, another biofuel produced from crops such as sugar or corn, into gasoline, the motor fuel of choice for most drivers.
It does not have rules to regulate biodiesel quality, deterring potential retailers from offering it and limiting its use to voluntary efforts by some local municipalities using waste vegetable oil for public transport, officials say.
Tokyo will not require retailers or refiners to blend a minimum percentage of pure biodiesel into their motor fuel, as some nations and governments have done. But it may consider tax incentives in future to encourage consumers to use biofuels, said the official, who asked not to be named.
The government will also offer financial support for companies that are developing ethanol blending technologies.
Faced with opposition from its powerful refiners and limited domestic crops, Japan has been slow to join the biofuel demand boom, which got a boost this year when US President George W. Bush made it a cornerstone of his energy policy.
Oil prices that stay stubbornly above US$70 a barrel have also made alternatives more economic, while a global push for cleaner fuels has aided momentum toward the cleaner fuel.
But for the moment, no bio-transportation fuel -- diesel or gasoline -- is sold at pumps at Japanese gas stations at all.
Malaysian Golden Hope Plantations Bhd.'s first export cargo of biofuel is due to be shipped to Japan this month, although Europe is expected to be the top market.
HIGH HOPES, NO INCENTIVES
Japan hopes to replace about 500,000 kilolitres (3.14 million barrels) of transportation fuels with bio-ethanol a year by 2010, another official said, but did not say how it would achieve that goal, which is less than 0.2 percent of Japan's total oil demand.
"Writing up the specifications of biodiesel can define the standard quality of the fuel and help introduce the industry and consumers to biodiesel," the official said.
Refiners feared that bio-blended fuels could damage cars and oil production systems, although proponents say that as much as 10 to 20 percent of biofuel is safe in standard engines.
There are signs they are coming around, if slowly.
Japan's largest refiner Nippon Oil Corp. is working with auto giant Toyota Motor Corp. to develop commercial biofuel, but is not expecting immediate results.
"We do not have a fixed timetable but the industry as a whole targets at 2010," a spokesman for Nippon Oil said.
The Petroleum Association of Japan, the industry's lobby, said earlier this year it hoped a gasoline blended with 3 percent of ethyl tertiary butyl ether (bio-ETBE) would meet about 20 percent of the country's total demand by 2010.
Diesel is mostly used to fuel trucks and buses in Japan, with demand totalling 37.34 million kl (643,000 barrels per day) last year. Gasoline demand was 61.6 million kl (1.1 million bpd).
While countries like Thailand and the United States enjoy double benefits from biofuel -- curbing oil imports and lifting rural incomes -- Japan is unable to feed itself, meaning it must still relay on crops in Malaysia or Brazil to provide it with most of its imported biodiesel or ethanol.
But officials see limited demand for the time being.
"I would expect to start with blending used vegetable oils like some local governments have been doing," said one official.