Oriental Mindoro oil spill

Oil spill victims advised not to sue ship owner as claims office set up in Oriental Mindoro

Isagani de Castro Jr.

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Oil spill victims advised not to sue ship owner as claims office set up in Oriental Mindoro

OIL CLEAN-UP. Fishermen in Pola, Mindoro clean up spilled oil from MT Princess Empress and put them inside containers on March 5, 2023.

Dwight de Leon/Rappler

Oriental Mindoro Governor Humerlito Dolor says oil spill victims can start getting claims forms on Friday. Representatives of the insurer say it may take 3 to 6 months before victims get paid.

MANILA, Philippines – The provincial government of Oriental Mindoro and representatives of the insurers of MT Princess Empress began the process of setting up a claims office in the capitol on Monday, March 27, for victims of the oil spill. 

Four claims processors arrived in Calapan City where they will train staff of the provincial legal office in the next three days after which victims can get and fill up the claims forms starting on Friday, March 31, Oriental Mindoro Governor Humerlito “Bonz” Dolor said on Monday, March 27.

In a press conference, Valeriano del Rosario, a lawyer representing the insurers, appealed for patience from the public following Dolor’s statement last Thursday that the claims forms will already be available on Monday. 

Dolor said the claims processors themselves had to undergo training in Singapore, and they now have to orient provincial legal staff on how claimants should fill up the claims forms. Security features will also be added to the forms since the forms will collect personal data. The forms will also have to be translated into Filipino.

Dolor said the provincial government will prioritize registered subsistence fishermen, fish vendors and other small traders, owners of fishing vessels, resort owners, other people engaged in tourism such as tour operators and boat men who are all affected by the fishing ban and the impact of the spill on the province’s tourism.

Last Thursday, Dolor said the provincial government had recorded 20,932 marginalized fisherfolk, 61 tourism establishments, 750 community-based organizations affected by the oil spill.

Prospective claimants were advised to bring valid government IDs and other documents to prove that they are registered with the local government units in Oriental Mindoro.

Those not registered with local government units of Oriental Mindoro can also file claims, Dolor said.

No need to sue, says lawyer

Del Rosario said victims can get compensation without having to file a class suit as Dolor earlier threatened, or file separate individual civil and/or criminal cases against the ship owner of MT Princess Empress, RDC Reield Marine Services (RDC).

FAST FACTS: Things to know about RDC Reield Marine Services

FAST FACTS: Things to know about RDC Reield Marine Services

Hindi na po kailangan [magsampa ng kaso] para makakuha ng compensation. Ang pinakamahalaga, kumuha ng claims form,” he said. 

(You don’t have to file a case to get compensation. What’s important is to get claims forms.)

Del Rosario said victims may still choose to file individual civil or criminal cases against RDC, but advised them not to since they can already get compensation for their economic losses. 

Kung kaso, pwede ka abutin sa RTC [Regional Trial Court] tatlong taon. Hihintayin mo pa ba yun?” he said. 

(If you file a case, in the Regional Trial Court, it will take three years. You want to wait that long?)

Del Rosario said claimants who will accept compensation will likely be asked to sign a quit claim saying they will no longer sue the ship owner. He said this will be explained to the claimants. 

When asked that this could be interpreted as a “suhol” or bribe, Del Rosario said, “Di ho ito suhol… Aregluhan ito, hindi suhol. (This is not a bribe. This is a settlement, not a bribe.)”

He said claimants may still choose to file individual civil or criminal cases, but this would put on hold their claims. “Walang puwersahan itoKung ayaw mo, pwede rin,” (No one is being forced here…If you don’t want to file a claim, you can),” he added.

Del Rosario, who handled the Doña Paz litigation, said it took 30 years to settle the cases. Dolor said he is not willing to wait that long for the victims. The passenger ferry Doña Paz collided with an oil tanker off Mindoro island in December 1987 leaving over 4,300 people dead. It is the considered the largest peacetime maritime disaster in the world.

Claims manager May Valles said the whole process of getting compensated could take months, although theoretically, a victim can get paid after 30 days if he or she is able to complete the claims forms with supporting documents.

Valles said they can only promise that there will be progress in the processing of claims in three to six months. She said the expected big number of claimants will prolong the process. 

She also said that it will be other people who will assess the claims, not the claims processors.

The insurance covers the following categories:

  • economic losses of those in fisheries and mariculture
  • economic losses of those in the tourism sector and tourism-related business
  • property damage 
  • cost of cleanup and preventive measures.

Dolor and Del Rosario last week advised those affected to support their claims with pictures and documents, such as photos of damaged fishing gears and boats. They should also be ready to present receipts for items they purchased to replace the damaged goods or goods they bought for cleaning up.

Who’s the insurer?

RDC on Monday said it was pleased that the claims caravan will now begin, adding that this process is made possible by their insurer, the Shipowners P&I Club, and the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPC), which provides compensation for oil pollution damage that occurs in member states, which includes the Philippines. 

RDC told regulator the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) that MT Princess Empress was insured for $1 billion or around P55 billion. The Shipowners’ Club, according to its website, has the ability to offer limits up to $1 billion for “liability insurance on a fixed premium basis.” 

The Shipowners’ Club, a mutual insurance association based in London, offers Protection & Indemnity (P&I) insurance to ship owners, operators, and charterers. It is a member of the International Group of P&I Clubs which provides “marine liability cover for around 90% of the world’s ocean-going tonnage.”

The club also assisted RDC in contracting a Japanese Dynamic Positioning Team, which deployed the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Hakuyo and found the damaged tanker 400 meters in the sea off the town of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro on March 21.

On Monday, Coast Guard Commandant Artemio Abu said the strategy to contain the spill has shifted to the next phase after tanker was found. Another ROV will have to be shipped to Oriental Mindoro for this task, he earlier said.

“While we have an ROV here, may iba’t-ibang plano na (there are different plans for) bagging, tapping, siphoning. May na-devise na na gagawin (There are now) solutions and will follow as soon as technical equipment is available,” Abu said. 

Department of National Defense (DND) officer-in-charge Carlito Galvez on Sunday sought more help from experts to help patch or plug the leaks from various tanks and valves of the MT Princess Empress, and to siphon the remaining industrial fuel oil or black oil from the ship. Japan, South Korea, and the US have all offered to help in the cleanup.

What is the IOPC?

Representatives of the Philippine government met with the IOPC in London on March 15 and provided information about the Mindoro oil spill.

The IOPC said its director, Gaute Sivertsen, “gave an overview of the general claims process in cases where the 1992 Fund Convention applies.”

IOPC_Funds_Film_EN – 2022 – FINAL from IOPC Funds on Vimeo.

“The IOPC Funds are financed by contributions paid by entities that receive certain types of oil by sea transport. These contributions are based on the amount of oil received in the relevant calendar year, and cover expected claims, together with the costs of administering the Funds,” the IOPC says on its website.

The Shipowners P&I Club said it was “very grateful for the continuous cooperation of the 1992 IOPC Fund and the Philippine Coast Guard” for the cleanup. 

Del Rosario explained last Thursday that the “mechanism for compensation” in the Mindoro oil spill are based on two international conventions. 

These are the International Convention on Civil Liability Convention for Oil Pollution Damage or CLC, and the 1992 International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage or 1992 Fund.

The CLC states that it was “adopted to ensure that adequate compensation is available to persons who suffer oil pollution damage resulting from maritime casualties involving oil-carrying ships.” 

The Philippines signed both the CLC convention and the 1992 fund convention on July 7, 1997, and it entered into force a year later. These conventions have been incorporated in the Oil Pollution Compensation Act of 2007, which was passed a year after the Guimaras oil spill in 2006.

Del Rosario said the CLC is the “first level of compensation by owners [of the vessel], and that insurance comes under the P&I insurance cover of the owners of MT Princess Empress.” 

The 1992 fund, he said, “covers the amount in excess of what is covered by the CLC.” 

Following the meeting of Philippine representatives with the IOPC last March 15, the international organization said it was still “too early to determine” whether the 1992 fund would apply to the Mindoro oil spill. 

MT Princess Empress left the private port, SL Harbor Terminal, in Limay, Bataan on February 28 with over 800,000 liters of oil bound for Iloilo. It encountered big waves and strong winds that morning and sank 400 meters off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro.

Rappler has reported that MT Princess Empress was chartered by SL Habor Bulk Terminal Corporation, a subsidiary of San Miguel Shipping and Lighterage Corporation. Diversified conglomerate San Miguel Corporation (SMC) has neither confirmed nor denied this report, and SMC president Ramon Ang has not spoken up on this issue. – Rappler.com

It was a San Miguel Shipping subsidiary that chartered MT Princess Empress

It was a San Miguel Shipping subsidiary that chartered MT Princess Empress

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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.