Oil sheen seen from sunken yacht off Tubbataha

Evelyn Macairan - The Philippine Star
Oil sheen seen from sunken yacht off Tubbataha
A trace of oil sheen was spotted in the waters near Tubbataha Reef in Palawan.
Philippine Coast Guard

MANILA, Philippines — An oil sheen was reportedly seen coming from the dive yacht M/Y Dream Keeper that sank some four nautical miles from the Tubbataha Reefs Marine Park.

Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesman Rear Admiral Armand Balilo yesterday reported that “an oil sheen was seen from the site where the Dream Keeper sank. There is only a small oil sheen but just the same, our oil spill response team is already there and we would be able to contain it right away.”

Tubbataha Reef has been declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as a World Heritage Site in 1993 because of its high density of marine species and pristine coral reef.

Balilo added that the presence of oil sheen is not an indication of an oil spill. He explained that there are instances when the fuel tank remains intact and would not aggravate the situation.

The PCG is still gathering information on the quantity of oil inside the sunken yacht.

They are also considering that the yacht might have diesel oil as the situation has not worsened since the sheen was discovered last Sunday. It was possible that diesel oil dissipates and would not become a problem.

Balilo also said they are continuing their search and rescue operation for the four still missing persons onboard the M/Y Dream Keeper that might have encountered a squall, or sudden violent gust of wind or a localized storm, that caused the yacht to sink.

The PCG is still searching for a dive master, the owner and two passengers, consisting of three Filipinos and one Chinese.

Search and rescue (SAR) operations are still ongoing. The 28 people earlier rescued are on board the PCG’s BRP Melchora Aquino and are in good condition.

“After our SAR today, the Melchora Aquino might return to Puerto Princesa City so those who were rescued could already go home. Their families have also been informed,” he said.

Even if BRP Melchora Aquino returns to Puerto Princesa City, SAR operations would be continued by other Coast Guard personnel in the area.

He said 10 other yachts and divers in the Tubbataha Reef area stopped their diving expeditions to help in the SAR.

The Coast Guard issued a Notice to Mariners to alert passing ships to be on the lookout for the four missing persons and to immediately inform the PCG.

The Dream Keeper left San Remegio, Cebu City at 4 p.m. of April 27 and arrived at Tubbataha Reef at around 10 p.m. of April 29.

On board the yacht were 15 crew, 12 passengers/guests and five dive masters or a total of 32 people. Among those onboard were four Chinese nationals.

The dive yacht reportedly sank in the morning of April 30 and by 6:49 a.m., the PCG Command Center received information from the PCG District Palawan about the mishap.

Gov’t to assist

The Department of Tourism (DOT) assured victims of the yacht that sank off the waters of Tubbataha in Palawan last Sunday that their needs would be attended to.

Secretary Christina Garcia-Frasco “immediately instructed the DOT Dive Committee, including the Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving, the attached agency in charge of regulating scuba sports and technical diving in the country, to extend all assistance possible to the survivors of the capsized M/Y Dream Keeper,” the agency said in a statement yesterday.

The DOT was also “in close coordination” with the Department of National Defense, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine Navy, PCG and private entities in the ongoing SAR operations.

The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park “is home to a great diversity of marine life,” where over 360 species of coral and almost 700 species of fish can be found, according to the DOT. — Ghio Ong

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