Climate and Environment

Oil spill-hit communities, advocates say crisis far from over

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Oil spill-hit communities, advocates say crisis far from over
In this picture taken on March 22, 2023, fishermen wearing personal protective equipment assemble an oil spill boom during a clean-up operation from the sunken tanker Princess Empress along the shore in Pola, Oriental Mindoro province.
AFP/Jam Sta. Rosa

MANILA, Philippines — The oil spill crisis in Oriental Mindoro is far from over despite the completion of efforts to siphon oil from the sunken motor tanker, affected communities and advocates said Wednesday. 

They said in a press briefing that the impacts of the oil spill on the livelihood and welfare of communities as well as the environment are far from being addressed four months after MT Princess Empress sank off Oriental Mindoro. 

Jennifer Cruz, mayor of Pola town, said she could not sign a document from the Philippine Coast Guard certifying that the municipality's coastlines are 100% cleared from the oil that has leaked from the tanker. 

“The real situation is we still have a lot to clean up. Our fight is not over until there is no justice for the victims of the oil spill,” Cruz said in Filipino.

“Even if oil residues on the beach disappear after five or six years, but there is no compensation for the people, that means the fight is not over,” she added. 

Fishers Dindo Melaya and Jacqueline Jaqueca also called for compensation and alternative livelihood opportunities. A fishing ban remains in Pola, which sustained the most damage from the oil spill. 

Cruz and the National Bureau of Investigation earlier filed a criminal complaint against officers of shipowner RDC Reield Marine Services Inc., crew members of the tanker, and members of the PCG. 

Need for concrete plans 

Fr. Edwin Gariguez, convenor of Protect Verde Island Passage, also said that no claim of oil spill recovery completion can be made as long as there is no accountability as well as concrete plans to rehabilitate the affected areas and to prevent similar incidents in the future.

“There is still no rehabilitation plan yet. That’s the most important aspect. We can say that the crisis is truly over if there’s a clear plan and budget,” he said. 

Last month, the Coast Guard said the oil spill recovery operation had been completed after successfully emptying the vessel’s tanks. 

But Ivan Andres, head of the Oceans, Coastal Communities, and Climate program of the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development, said this does not stop the effects of the oil that has already leaked. The oil spill reached the Verde Island Passage, an area called the “Amazon of the Oceans” because of its rich marine life.

Based on assessments conducted by CEED, oil spill residues and tar balls were found along shorelines, some even in areas adjacent to marine protected areas. 

“Judging by the state of the oil spill in Oriental Mindoro, the impacts are apparent across biodiversity, marine ecology, livelihood and welfare of communities,” Andres said.

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