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MANILA, Philippines – A tanker carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil capsized off the coast of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, on February 28, 2023.
Oil sludge from the MT Princess Empress had already reached the shores of Pola and Pinamalayan in Oriental Mindoro, and as the tanker sank, its cargo of industrial oil also started to seep into the waters of the town of Naujan.
Besides the health risks associated with oil spills near residential communities, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) raised concerns about its effects on 21 protected areas, including the Verde Island Passage, a center of marine biodiversity in the country. (FAST FACTS: Health risks humans face when exposed to oil spills)
This is not the first oil spill in the country. What were major spills in the past and what were the responses to them?
1999 – Manila Bay oil spill
On March 19, 1999, oil tanker Sea Brothers I capsized and sank after hitting a breakwater, or a wall that absorbs big waves, in Manila Bay.
Approximately 85 tonnes of bunker fuel leaked into the bay. The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) led efforts to clean up the spill using chemical dispersants.
Divers sealed the vessel’s leaks and it was refloated a month later on April 19, 1999.
2001 – Cavite oil spill
An oil pipeline in Carmona, Cavite burst, affecting a six-kilometer stretch of the Carmona River, which threatened to spill over into Laguna Bay.
What was named the National Disaster Coordinating Council then made use of oil spill containment booms, or barriers that slow down and contain oil spills, to block the flow towards the bay.
2005 – Semirara oil spill
A power barge, or a floating power plant, ran aground in the vicinity of Semirara Island on December 18, 2005.
The barge’s fuel tanks leaked 235,000 liters of bunker fuel and affected around 100 hectares of mangrove forests on the island.
2006 – Guimaras oil spill
M/V Solar I was carrying 2.4 million liters of oil to Mindanao when a storm caused the tanker to capsize near the Guimaras coast.
Only 9,000 liters were recovered from the vessel, meaning that the rest of the cargo had leaked out. 16 square kilometers of coral, 551 hectares of mangrove, 58 hectares of seaweed, and 824 hectares of fishponds were affected by the spill.
The cleanup posed a different challenge, as not only did the oil spill in the waters, but it also made its way to land. This was widely considered to be the worst oil spill in Philippine history. (READ: 8/11, One Year After)
2013 – Cebu and Manila Bay oil spills
500,000 liters of oil spilled in Manila Bay on August 9, 2013. 12 coastal barangays in Cavite were affected. The oil tanker MK Makisig was suspected to have caused the spill.
PCG personnel opted to let the fuel evaporate than use chemical dispersants that could further poison the water.
The ferry ship MV St. Thomas Aquinas collided with a cargo ship Sulpicio Express 7 on August 16, 2013.
Approximately 160,000 liters of different oils leaked from the ferry ship and affected 5,000 hectares of mangroves. 91 were reported dead and 43 were reported missing from the accident, according to a GMA news report.
2013 and 2020 – Iloilo oil spills
There were two separate oil spill incidents in the province of Iloilo.
During the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda on November 8, 2013, 850,000 liters of bunker fuel spilled from a Napocor power barge in Estancia Town, Iloilo. Mangroves up to 10 kilometers downstream were affected by the spill.
On July 3, 2020, an explosion at a power barge in Iloilo City spilled 48,000 liters of oil, affecting an area of 1,200 square meters. Oil booms were deployed to contain the spread.
Exposure to oil spills has adverse effects on health, including liver and brain damage as well as respiratory and renal problems. Spills can also contaminate food sources, poisoning the fragile food chain that includes food sources for humans. – Laurice Angeles/Rappler.com
Laurice Angeles is a Chemistry graduate of the University of the Philippines-Diliman. She is a volunteer under Rappler’s Research unit.