Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Philippine Gov't on red alert for rocket debris

MANILA, Philippines - The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) has placed its personnel on red alert to monitor the controversial satellite launch of North Korea this week.

Government officials yesterday also warned the public of possible rocket debris that might fall into Philippine territory.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) has issued a “notice to airmen” or Notam regarding the diversion of flights from the northeast portion of northeastern and eastern Luzon that could be hit by derbis from the North Korean rocket.

NDRRMC executive director Benito Ramos said the areas that might be affected include Buguey, Gonzaga, Santa Ana in Cagayan; Palanan, Maconacon, Divilacan, Dinapigue; 
Casiguran, Dilasag, Dinalungan, Baler, and Dingalan in Aurora; Real, Infanta and Nakar in Quezon; and Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur in Bicol.

Debris may also hit Basco, Batanes, Ramos said.

Officials of the NDRRMC, CAAP, and Philippine Airlines have met last March to discuss the alternative flight plans to be used by PAL planes that normally traverse the northeastern part of Luzon.

The airliner would re-route some flights to avoid the possible effects over Philippine territory of the plan of North Korea to launch a satellite into orbit this month.

PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna said that a stage of the rocket that would put the satellite into orbit is expected to fall just east of Luzon when the launch is conducted between April 12 and 16, which would force PAL flights to divert their routes to avoid the area.

The re-routing would affect PR105 San Francisco via Guam to Manila, PR103 Los Angeles via Guam-Manila, PR 107 Vancouver via Los Angeles to Manila, PR 431 Narita, Japan to Manila, PR407 Kansai to Manila, PR437 Nagoya, Japan to Manila, PR467 Incheon, South Korea to Manila, PR434 Cebu to Narita, PR111 Guam to Manila and PR 426 Manila to Fukuoka.

“Safety remains the cornerstone of PAL operations,” Villaluna added.

The CAAP had approved the new flight plans that will be used by the PAL flights.

“We assure our passengers that their safety is our top priority,” Villaluna added.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) also issued a notice to mariners (Notam) advising vessels to stay clear of the northeastern side of the country from April 12 to 16 as a precaution for the North Korean satellite launch.

The event marks the centenary of the birth of the country’s late founding president Kim Il-Sung.

North Korea insists the launch is a peaceful space project but countries including the United States and South Korea view it as a disguised missile test in breach of a United Nations resolution.

The UN Security Council’s Resolution 1874 bans any ballistic missile tests by North Korea.
In Notam no. 042-2012, PCG told the mariners that, “The government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will launch the ‘earth observation satellite’ Kwangmyongsong-3 on 12 to 16 April 2012.”

PCG spokesperson Lieutenant Commander Algier Ricafrente said that they have advised sea travelers to avoid sailing to the areas threatened by the North Korean program.

He said the PCG would not be sending out patrol ships to help enforce the Notam since most maritime traffic is on the west side of the Philippines and only few vessels pass through the northeastern part.

“Our PCG stations and detachments have been issuing the Notam everyday. We have also asked the local government units in these areas to help disseminate the information to their fishermen,” he added.

The NDRRMC yesterday warned the public not to touch the fragments of North Korea’s rocket in case its debris falls on Philippine soil.

Ramos also reminded the public not to entertain the idea of selling the fragments to a junk shop as this might contain chemicals.

“Our advice to our countrymen is do not touch and do not sell (the fragments) to the junkshop,” Ramos told radio station dzMM

He said the public should just let the experts handle the rocket’s fragments in case these fall on land.

Ramos said the public may reach the NDRRMC by calling 911-1406, 912-2665, 912-5668, 9120441, 9125947 and 9122424.

He stressed that the warnings they are issuing are just precautionary measures in the event that the North Korean rocket undershoots or overshoots its target.

“The missile may be guided but the debris is misguided. If it (rocket) disintegrates, we don’t know how big would be the debris. All these would be misguided,” Ramos said.

“Even if it deviates (from the flight path) by one degree, it can land on the soil of Northern Luzon. (The public should) stay indoors,” he added.

Ramos, nevertheless, cited an assessment by the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI), which had stated that the rocket would not contain any nuclear warhead, plutonium or uranium.

“I am not sowing panic. We are just promoting awareness among our countrymen that the debris is not guided. The debris has no scientific target,” Ramos said.

The Philippines has expressed “grave concern” over the launching of the rocket and has joined calls for North Korea to drop its plan.

The initial stage of North Korea’s latest rocket is expected to fall about 140 kilometers off South Korea’s west coast, in international waters between China and South Korea.
The second stage is expected to splash down 190 kilometers east of northern Philippines. The rocket is expected to fly 190 nautical miles northeast of Northern Luzon in Sta. Ana, Cagayan and 150 nautical miles east of Polilio Island in Quezon.

The CAAP has announced that it would implement a “no-fly zone” over areas along the likely path of North Korea’s rocket.

The NDRRMC also declared a “no sail zone” and “no fishing zone” in waters below the likely path of the rocket. The areas covered by the declaration are Cagayan, Isabela, Aurora, Quezon, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur and Catanduanes.

Nuclear expert on alert

Two teams of radioactivity experts from the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) would monitor the possible falling of rocket debris into Philippine territory from the North Korean satellite launch.

The PNRI, an attached agency of the Department of Science and Technology, however, maintained that North Korea’s launch will have no direct nuclear threat to the country.
The teams would monitor possible debris in Cagayan or Virac, Catanduanes, the PNRI said.
The first team would conduct the monitoring from April 1 to 15 while the second team will do the assessment from April 16 to 30.

The team members are the same experts who assessed possible threats from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant damaged by a magnitude-9 quake and tsunami last year, the agency said.

PNRI director Alumanda de la Rosa earlier said the satellite has no nuclear element but there might be components of the missile that may contain radioactive particles like the battery.

“The debris might not be hazardous but it could damage transport vehicles,” she said.
De la Rosa said the PNRI is also prepared to activate its National Radiological Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan (RADPLAN) in case of a nuclear threat against the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the Regional Disaster Coordinating Council (RDCC) of Bicol has activated Oplan Bicol Watch as a precautionary measure on the possible falling of debris from the North Korean rocket.

The areas under threat of falling debris include Polilio Island in Camarines Norte and Catanduanes.

“We are going to operationalize this contingency plan when the missile launch starts to ensure the people along the coastal areas are safe,” said Raffy Alejandro, Office of Civil Defense (OCD) regional director, during an emergency meeting which was attended RDCC members at the agency’s conference room at Camp General Simeon Ola here Monday morning.

Quick reaction recovery teams on land and sea were deployed to help recover the missile debris.

Capt. Abraham Celso, Naval Forces of Southern Luzon (NAVFORSOL) commander, ordered the deployment of two naval ships near Polilio Island where the second stage booster of the rocket is estimated to fall about 190 kms east of the island.

Celso, who took his General Staff Course at a military school in South Korea from 2001 to 2002, said North Korea is practicing brinkmanship diplomacy to project itself as a military power in the region to force democratic countries to help solve its food problem.

Albay Gov. Joey Salceda directed Alejandro to expand the monitoring from Polilio Island to Catanduanes which covers an area about 210 kilometers long.

“I can’t allow our constituents who will be forced to stay indoors for six days just because of this missile debris scare,” said Salceda who suggested the inclusion of the seven national action plan for “the OCD to provide advice (to) the coastal household and communities in the eastern seaboard...” 

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Alexis Romero | The Philippine Star | April 10, 2012 | Article Link