Oriental Mindoro oil spill

Too early to celebrate: Japanese ROV can’t plug, siphon oil from MT Princess Empress

Isagani de Castro Jr.

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Too early to celebrate: Japanese ROV can’t plug, siphon oil from MT Princess Empress

FOUND. The MT Empress Princess found in the waters of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, on March 21, 2023.

Philippine Coast Guard

Another ROV will have to be shipped to Oriental Mindoro to plug or siphon the oil from the sunken MT Princess Empress, says Coast Guard Commandant Artemio Abu

MANILA, Philippines – The Japanese remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) that found the sunken MT Princess Empress is not capable of plugging or siphoning oil from the tanker, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) chief said on Wednesday, March 22. 

In an interview with News5, PCG Commandant Artemio Abu said the ROV Hakuyo is not the tool that can plug the oil spill nor siphon the oil from the tanker, adding that another vessel from Singapore may have to be contracted by the shipowner to do this task. 

“This ROV [Hakuyo] doesn’t have the means to plug or control the leakage of oil from the sunken vessel,” he said. 

Abu said that based on the video taken by Hakuyo, it cannot be determined if oil is leaking from the tanker which is submerged nearly 400 meters off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro. 

Based on the video, he said the ship is just “lying there” with no “visible leakage.” 

Abu said another ROV will have to be sent to the Philippines to plug any leaks. It may also entail setting up pipes to siphon the oil, similar to what was done in Guimaras following the oil spill in 2006.  

He said there is still no information on when this next step will be undertaken. 

Abu said it was the shipowner, RDC Reield Marine Services (RDC), which contracted the entities that are engaged in this major work.  (READ: FAST FACTS: Things to know about RDC Reield Marine Services)

Meron po tayong (We have the) ‘spillers pay principle’ at inako naman po nila (and they owned up to it). From the very beginning, they are taking full accountability and responsibility through their insurance, their P&I [protection and indemnity] insurance,” he said.

There is widespread concern that if the leak is not plugged soon, it would continue to spread and ruin the Verde Island Passage, a body of water in southern Luzon that is the center of the Philippines’ marine biodiversity.

On Monday, the PCG joined cleanup operations in Verde Island where 162 liters of oily water mixture and four sacks of oil-contaminated debris were collected. 

What’s next?

RDC contracted a French company, Le Floch Depollution (LFD), which specializes on marine depollution, to respond to the oil spill in Mindoro. RDC also hired local oil spill response contractors for the cleanup. 

Hakuyo, which was on board its workboat, Shin Nichi Maru, left Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan, on March 15. It sails under the Japanese flag and is owned by Japanese firm Kyoei Marine. The workboat arrived in Calapan City on March 20, and was immediately deployed to search for the tanker. ROV Hakuyo found the tanker on March 21, Tuesday.

Too early to celebrate: Japanese ROV can’t plug, siphon oil from MT Princess Empress

“Over the coming days, surveys will be conducted by the crew of the Shin Nichi Maru, together with the technical experts on board, to assess the situation of the wreck, in view of assessing any appropriate measures required,” the RDC said. 

It said the ROV will conduct “visual surveys of the vessel…to help determine the structural condition of the wreck and check for any ongoing oil leaks.” 

“Experts will then assess these surveys to determine further options to address any leaks and remove any remaining cargo,” the company said. 

Chemical dispersants

Abu also addressed the concern raised by Commissioner Albert dela Cruz of the Climate Change Commission on the negative impact of chemical dispersants on the marine environment. 

Dela Cruz reportedly said in a meeting on Monday that when dispersants are sprayed on surface oil slick, the oil is broken down into smaller droplets that mix with water, according to a report of the Philippine News Agency. He said these droplets do not reduce the oil in the water but push the spill further underwater causing harm to the marine ecosystem. 

Abu said they are aware of this but said their oil spill response is based on science. He said the main purpose of chemical dispersants, along with oil spill booms, is to prevent the oil from reaching shores. 

He also said agencies have not discussed yet where to store the black oil collected from various coastal areas affected by the oil spill. 

According to the PCG, 6,803 liters of oily water mixture and 65 sacks of oil-contaminated materials have been collected from the offshore oil spill response operations as of March 21.

From March 1 to 21, the PCG collected 2,375 sacks and 22 drums of waste in 13 affected barangays in Naujan, Bulalacao, and Pola, Oriental Mindoro. 

Abu said the steps being taken in Mindoro are similar to the responses undertaken in the Guimaras oil spill. 

The PCG is the lead agency in cleaning up the spill from MT Princess Empress, which sank on February 28, allegedly after it encountered big waves that morning. It left the private port, SL Harbor Terminal, with 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil, also called “black oil.” This initial figure reported by the Coast Guard was later corrected by its spokesman, Rear Admiral Armand Balilo, to be 900,000 liters. He said the ship was not overloaded.

SL Harbor in Limay, Bataan, is operated by SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corporation, a subsidiary of San Miguel Shipping and Lighterage Corporation. Rappler has reported that SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corporation was the charterer of MT Princess Empress. San Miguel has not made any statement confirming or denying this story.

[OPINION] Time for San Miguel president Ramon Ang to speak up on Mindoro oil spill, show ‘malasakit’ 

[OPINION] Time for San Miguel president Ramon Ang to speak up on Mindoro oil spill, show ‘malasakit’ 

Abu said various government units are already contributing funds in the cleanup, but he said any assistance from private parties will also be welcomed. – Rappler.com

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Isagani de Castro Jr.

Before he joined Rappler as senior desk editor, Isagani de Castro Jr. was longest-serving editor in chief of ABS-CBN News online. He had reported for the investigative magazine Newsbreak, Asahi Shimbun Manila, and Business Day. He has written chapters for books on politics, international relations, and civil society.