Oriental Mindoro oil spill

Sunken MT Princess Empress in Oriental Mindoro not brand new – Remulla

Jairo Bolledo

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Sunken MT Princess Empress in Oriental Mindoro not brand new – Remulla

OIL SPILL. Pola town in Oriental Mindoro is among the municipalities hardest hit by the oil spill. It has been under a state of calamity since March 3, 2023.

Jilson Tiu/CEED

(1st UPDATE) Justice Secretary Boying Remulla says there is 'misrepresentation' in the incident because authorities were earlier told the vessel was brand new

MANILA, Philippines – The sunken MT Princess Empress causing an oil spill in Oriental Mindoro and nearby provinces was not brand new, Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla revealed on Thursday, March 16.

Isang major finding natin ay hindi siya brand new vessel. Itong barkong ito ay hindi brand new vessel, it is [a] rebuilt scrap – rebuilt scrap ship na dalawang beses ni-rebuild para maging tanker. It was not built to be a tanker from the very beginning,” the DOJ chief told reporters.

(One of our major findings is that it (MT Princess Empress) was not a brand new vessel. This ship is not a brand new vessel, it is a rebuilt scrap – a rebuilt scrap ship rebuilt twice to become a tanker. It was not built to be a tanker from the very beginning.)

Remulla said that the first time the ship was rebuilt, it was modified to become a liquefied petroleum gas carrier. Then it was rebuilt as a tanker during the second rebuilding. The justice secretary added they were now holding an affidavit from someone who gave important details about the ship.

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The DOJ was among the agencies tapped to look into the oil spill incident. Along with the Philippine Coast Guard and the National Bureau of Investigation, the DOJ held a meeting to establish the so-called “scene of the crime” of the incident, Remulla earlier said.

According to him, there was “misrepresentation” in the incident because authorities were earlier told the vessel was brand new. He added they were also told the ship was only two years old.

Remulla also confirmed it was possible that there were prior incidents where the ship almost capsized.

Meron ding lumalabas na gano’n. ‘Yon ang dino-document natin ngayon mula sa mga records ng agencies na kasama ‘pagkat kailangan talaga ma-define ito. Itong scene of the crime, ano ‘yong nature ng environmental crimes committed, and the legal strategy has to be mastered by the DOJ so that we can go to the very bottom of this para hindi na ito maulit sa ating mga karagatan,” the justice secretary said.

(That’s also a possibility. That’s what we are documenting now from the records of agencies involved because we need to define this. This scene of the crime, the nature of the environmental crimes committed, and the legal strategy have to be mastered by the DOJ so that we can get to the very bottom of this so that it does not happen again in our waters.)

He added that the operators of the ship were given a warning before they sailed, but MT Princess Empress still pushed through with its trip.

The department was also looking at the insurance angle because the ship “seemed” to have a large amount of insurance, Remulla added. The Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) earlier revealed that the vessel was insured for $1 billion.

On February 28, the vessel capsized off the coast of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, while carrying an estimated 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil. It was en route to Iloilo from Bataan when it capsized and caused an oil spill in waters nearby. On March 6, authorities said the sunken ship was spotted around 7.5 nautical miles from Balisangan Point near the town of Pola, Oriental Mindoro.

At least 76 coastal barangays in nine towns in Oriental Mindoro have since been put under state of calamity

As the probe into the incident continues, Marina this week said the vessel had no permit and sailed at least nine times before its sinking. However, the Philippine Coast Guard presented the supposed documents of the ship.

On Thursday, Marina insisted MT Princess Empress was a “colorum” or unlicensed vessel.

Accountability 

In a statement on Friday, March 17, Senator Risa Hontiveros said the DOJ’s latest revelation confirmed the initial findings of their probe into the incident. The senator added that some government agencies should also be held accountable for allowing the ship to sail despite its condition. 

Hontiveros said that the PCG officials “who directly allowed” the ship to depart from Bataan should face “the full brunt of the law,” and should also be made to answer for the previous times the vessel had been allowed to sail.

MARINA officials “who allowed the ship to operate” despite its condition should also be held liable, she said. – Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.