Climate and Environment

Philippines starts siphoning oil from sunken tanker

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Philippines starts siphoning oil from sunken tanker
Photo shows diving support vessel Fire Opal, which is expected to siphon 120,000 to 240,000 liters of oil from sunken MT Princess Empress.
Screengrab from Philippine Coast Guard

MANILA, Philippines — Work to recover the remaining oil from the MT Princess Empress that sank off Oriental Mindoro began Monday and may last for a month, the Philippine Coast Guard said.

MT Princess Empress, which was loaded with 800,000 liters of industrial fuel, sank in rough seas on February 28, affecting over 194,000 people in Southern Luzon and Western Visayas and threatening the area’s rich marine life

Diving support vessel Fire Opal is expected to siphon 120,000 to 240,000 liters of oil.

Commodore Geronimo Tuvilla, Coast Guard’s incident management team in Oriental Mindoro commander, said it may take between 20 and 30 days to extract the remaining oil from the vessel.

“Once the oil removal is completed, we hope that the process will pave the way for the rehabilitation of affected areas and finally transition to the normalcy of lives of affected Mindoreños,” Tuvilla said.

Fishers from some parts of Oriental Mindoro have yet to resume their fishing activities. Fishers who were ordered to stay ashore participate in the government’s cash-for-work program, which provides temporary income. 

The oil spill is also posing threats to the Verde Island Passage, an area called the “Amazon of the Oceans” because of its rich marine life. Initial estimates by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources put the environmental damage caused by the oil spill at P7 billion.

Call for accountability

Pola Mayor Jennifer Cruz expressed frustration over the government’s slow response in addressing the oil spill. Pola is one of the worst-affected municipalities.

“Those behind this should be held accountable because we are tired,” Cruz said in a joint hearing conducted by the House ecology and natural resource committees Monday.

Fr. Edwin Gariguez, lead convenor of Protect Verde Island Passage (VIP), noted the oil spill is still not being treated as a “national disaster.”

“While the government dilly-dallies in exacting accountability and justice, the damage to Verde Island Passage’s ecosystem and resulting impacts on stakeholders continue to worsen. Companies responsible for this must be punished,” Gariguez said.

RDC Reield Marine Services owns the oil tanker. Reports identified SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corporation, a subsidiary of San Miguel Shipping and Lighterage Corporation, as the charterer. Under the Oil Pollution Compensation Act, charterers are exempted from claims for compensation for pollution damage.

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