Mining and power firm sheds light on vessels docked in Antique's Semirara Island during ECQ
The Semirara Mining and Power Corporation said Tuesday its continued operations on Semirara Island in the central Philippine province of Antique is in compliance with government regulations amid measures imposed in most parts of the country to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Reacting to reports about the presence of foreign vessels near the island that raised public health concerns among some local residents, the SMPC issued a statement "to assure our stakeholders that the foreign and domestic vessels carrying coal cargo from our mine site were closely coordinated with all concerned government agencies."
"Cargo loading was also done in accordance with our strict coronavirus disease (COVID-19) protocols and relevant guidelines set by" government, the company said.
Stringent regulations issued by the Quarantine, Immigration and Customs bureaus were complied with to limit the risk of COVID-19 transmission, it said.
Vessel crew members have also been prohibited from disembarking since February while the ships are docked in its port, SMPC added, in compliance with the "no disembarkation" policy of the municipal government of Caluya.
Some concerned residents said a number of vessels have been spotted near the island on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Save Antique Movement claimed that the 'Chinese' vessels still enter the coast despite the enhanced community quarantine and border control measures in the province.
Bong Sanchez, the president of the movement,said that Semirara residents are worried about the presence of the 'Chinese' ships because they know that the COVID-19 originated from China. "We understand the concerns and anxiety of our host community and other stakeholders during this unprecedented health crisis, and we are doing everything we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19," the SMPC said, without confirming whether or not the vessels are from China.
It said the company, its contractors and coal buyers strictly practice social distancing, health screening and disinfection inside its coal shipping facility.
Employees who transact directly with customers wear hazardous materials suits, N95 masks, face shields and other personal protective equipment as needed, it said.
And a nurse, a safety officer and a team of security personnel are on site to monitor and enforce the company's COVID-19 protocols, it added.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Antique Governor Rhodora Cadiao said she has asked for SMPC's explanation on the presence of the vessels through a letter dated April 20.
"I want to know, was this done within the parameters of the Executive Order of the President that all borders, all airports, all piers should be closed within the enhanced community quarantine? I wrote a letter to the Semirara Mining Corporation to inquire all these things," Cadiao said.
"May Coast Guard ba na nagbabantay? Kasi parang hindi namin alam ang operations, and we feel that we have to know kung anong nangyayari diyan because of this COVID. May quarantine ba diyan kapag pumapasok ang foreign vessel na yan?"
In her letter, Cadiao asked the company to verify the report reaching her office "that lately, two Chinese vessels with the Chinese crew docked at the Semirara Island, notwithstanding the state of Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) therein."
She also specifically asked whether cargoes were loaded or unloaded, whether the Chinese crew had contact with local residents, who authorized the vessels to dock, and whether protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were observed.
Cadiao, said she was able to talk to a company official and asked about the possibility of suspending its operations on the island.
The official told her that the power plant's operations cannot be suspended, while its mining operations can continue with a skeletal force.
"But the mining, sabi niya we are just on operations because this is just to sustain the salaries of our employees. Tapos, sabi niya , I'm willing to make a skeletal force diyan sa may mining operation," Cadiao said.
The commander of the Coast Guard Station in Antique had earlier said that the vessels are not necessarily Chinese.
Commander Perlita Cinco said that based on her monitoring, some of the vessels came from Manila and Hong Kong.
As of Monday, four cases of COVID-19 have been recorded on Semirara Island.