Commodore George Ursabia said they have until Wednesday noon, December 17, to extricate the grounded MV Pacific from where it is stuck now or wait for another 2 weeks for the tide to be at its highest before another operation can be launched.
He said they consider the situation as a maritime emergency and the priority was to move the ship away from harming the community of 500 families in a worst case scenario.
Ursabia is the commanding general of the Southeastern Command of the Philippine Coast Guard.
“We only have a window of opportunity of until Wednesday noon. We want to the situation to be controlled,” Ursabia said even as salvage company Harbor Star prepares to pull out the stranded 23,000 ton ship.
Capt. Lorenzo Caranzo said almost ¾ of the vessel is partly grounded but expressed confidence they will be able to handle the ship.
MV Pacific ran out of fuel while on its way to Singapore for refueling and then ran aground when it was drifted ashore by the tide while anchored in Sarangan i Bay.
Skipper Sheda Khan said bad weather last week forced them to veer from their original route which consumed much of their 750 metric ton of bunker fuel.
“We were within 300 miles of Hagupit (local name Typhoon Ruby),” Khan said while on their way to Singapore.
The cruise ship left Mexico in October and was heading for India where it will be torn apart.
Ursabia said they will detain the ship after it is removed from the area but urged the Protected Area Management Bureau (PAMB) and the local government to initiate legal proceedings to determine the liability of the ship owner and skipper.
Ursabia explained that the Coast Guard can detain the ship up to 10 days but will be forced to release it if there is no case filed in court.
Meantime, the Coast Guard commander also warned the ship skipper not to empty any of the ballasts of the ship.
He said they will regularly check the ballast log of ship.
The ship ballasts were loaded with water when it left port in Mexico as it did not have any cargo.
PAMB protected area supervisor Derie Macabaning tried to block the Coast Guard from proceeding with the extraction operations saying the latter should wait for an investigation and proper procedure from PAMB.
The 224,000 hectares Sarangani Bay has been declared a protected area by Presdient Fidel Ramos.
But Ursabia insisted the ship will endanger the people in Purok Silway if it remains in the area while proceedings are yet to be filed against the shipping company and the crew of the ill-fated ship.
He said assessment of the damage to marine life and compensation could follow after the extraction operations.
Ursabia likewise assured that the Coast Guard will closely watch the ship and will prevent it from leaving port until PAMB and the city government are satisfied with whatever legal procedure they will pursue against the ship owner.
The tide will be at its highest at noon on December 17, reaching 1.3 meters, according to the Indian skipper of MV Star.
MV Pacific is originally listed as MV Ocean Star Pacific and is flagged in the tiny Pacific country of St. Kitts and Nevis.
The former cruise ship is the second foreign vessel to run aground in Sarangani Bay in recent years.
On May 8, 2011, Panamanian cargo ship MV Double Prosperity struck Bakud Reef, about 2.5 nautical miles off Kiamba town in Sarangani causing damage to the reef.