‘We are vindicated,’ — Mining firm PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 14 February 2014 14:29


This was how Mr. Elson S. Ogario, president of Atro Mining-Vitali, Inc. (AMVI), described the situation after the company was dragged into the issue of the deaths of prawns and crabs in Vitali fishponds, Zamboanga City which turned out to have been caused by a deadly and contagious virus known as White Spots Syndrome Virus (WSSV).

“All the while, the company is confident that it will come out clean and vindicated amid allegations that our mining exploration in Vitali has caused the problem,” he told media.

“But of course, we are saddened by what is happening because it affects the lives of the people who mainly depend upon the fishpond industry for their living,” he hastened to add.

Agriculture and fishery experts said the infestation of shrimps and crabs in Vitali village was caused White Spots Syndrome Virus (WSSV).

This finding on the reported deaths of shrimps and crabs in the fishponds of Vitali came after the investigation jointly conducted last February 7 by the Committees of Agriculture and the Environment and Natural Resources of the Sangguniang Panlungsod. Councilors Miguel Alavar III and Charlie Mariano are the chairmen the Committee of Agriculture and the Committee of Environment and Natural Resources, respectively.

During the investigation, which was held right at the fishpond area of Vitali, Dr. Art Panganiban of Zamboanga State of Marine Sciences and Technology said the problem is caused by WSSV based on the observed symptoms from the samples.

The main manifestation of the disease is the white spots mark in the head and tail of the infected shrimp.

Dr. Panganiban’s assessment was in agreement with the finding of Agriculture Officer Rico Tabal last week. Tabal, head of the Field Agriculture Office 6 based in Barangay Vitali, issued the warning of possible outbreak and infestation crustacean specie by WSSV after he received reports of deaths of shrimps and crabs in the area.

Tabal said his office is very aware of the possible onset of WSSV infestations “during this time of the year in 2013, and is likely to hit again this year the local prawn farming industry.”

Records show that WSSV infestation also hit the fishpond operators of Vitali in September 2011.

Experts said the virus is known to occur in fresh, brackish and marine water. They said the disease appears to be induced by environmental and handling stress such as eye-stalk ablation, spawning, moulting, and changes in salinity, temperature and acid level of water during plankton blooms especially with the onset of summer.

“It is a case intrinsic to the fishpond industry which should be seriously looked into by the government to solve the problem once and for all,” Ogario explained.

He said the fishpond operators should also exercise prudence and utmost responsibility in taking care of their own as the mining industry exercises its own level of responsibility and commitment to socially-responsible development.

Ogario, however, said the company is open to any form of cooperation and collaboration with the government “to collectively address the issue for the good of the people”.

“We welcome the decision of the members of the city council to continue the investigation on the problem as our way forward to solve this problem of our fishpond operators and also to clean up the name of the company, which was unfairly dragged into the issue,” he said.

The local legislators wanted more studies and tests after some villagers living near the river developed skin rashes and fear that a mining company conducting exploration in the area may have contaminated the river.

Councilor Alavar said he wanted more studies on the problem to address it once and for all. The city council has scheduled a site inspection of AMVI on Feb. 15.

The company, in an official statement signed by its Corporate Communication Officer Antonio M. Manaytay, clarified that it has not started its operation in Vitali and has repeatedly denied allegations blaming the company for the spread of the disease.

It said it is still on the exploration stage of its iron ore project in Vitali and in the conduct of the exploration activities, the company is not using any form of chemicals.

“We categorically deny the allegations and dismiss the same as mere product of imagination and malicious insinuation borne out of careless imagination. There is not even an iota of truth in all the accusations hurled against the company,” the statement said. — AMM