Speaking at the Wilson Center
on May 16, Leona D’Agnes described Philippine fisheries as the “global epicenter of marine biodiversity
.” A little more than a month later, on June 21, a ferry transporting 22,000 pounds of toxic cargo crossed paths with Typhoon Frank and capsized off the Philippine island of Sibuyan. In addition to the endosulfan (a pesticide banned in the United States) buried within its hold, the ferry carried some 850 passengers; 56 survived the wreck, 173 are confirmed dead, and more than 600 are still missing
—their bodies presumed trapped within the wreckage of the ship.
Due to concern about releasing the endosulfan or the 70,000 gallons of oil into the surrounding water, and disagreement over how best to remove the cargo, recovery efforts have yet to begin, though Sulpicio Lines Inc., owner of the vessel, recently agreed to a 40-day time frame
for removing the cargo and the bodies inside the ferry.
Though there have been no leaks, fishermen in the area have been banned from plying their trade in the weeks since the incident. Fishing communities can ill afford this sort of livelihood disruption. As D’Agnes explained, “fishermen are the poorest of the poor in the Philippines.” One such fisherman, Walden Royo, agreed with this assessment and spoke for many in his community when he said that the country’s actions in the wake of the event are “slowly killing us.” The island’s remoteness has impeded the delivery of relief supplies, and rural fishing communities often lack access to alternative livelihoods. Municipal fisheries, D’Agnes reported, provide 80 percent of the protein requirements of residents of these villages.
On July 10, 1,000 fishermen from Sibuyan gathered their boats around the bow of the ferry to sing a prayer for the victims and push for removal of the wreckage. There is often conflict between protecting the environment and protecting livelihoods, but in this case, the government has to choose between exposing fishermen and their families to potentially toxic waters and cutting off their primary source of income and food. Royo expressed the desperation felt by many of his peers to IRIN news: “When will they begin to realize that we need to fish?” he wondered. “When our children are already dead?”