Philippine Coast Guard

Was MT Princess Empress authorized to sail? Permit shown by PCG sows confusion

Dwight de Leon

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Was MT Princess Empress authorized to sail? Permit shown by PCG sows confusion

DISASTER. Traces of oil spill can be seen on the shoreline of Pola, Oriental Mindoro following the capsizing of an oil tanker in February 2023.

Arjay Cleofe/PonD News Asia

(2nd UPDATE) The Philippine Coast Guard initially shares documents supposedly showing that the sunken ship had a permit to operate but says a day later it will investigate whether such documents submitted by the ship's owner are authentic

MANILA, Philippines – Hours after a Senate inquiry heard the country’s maritime regulator say that the sunken oil tanker, MT Princess Empress, had no permit, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), which was also represented in the hearing, posted documents online seeking to discredit the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) chief’s statements.

The PCG on Tuesday night, March 14, shared on social media six pages of the Certificate of Public Convenience (CPC) supposedly issued by MARINA to RDC Reield Marine Services Inc, the owner of MT Princess Empress which sank off Oriental Mindoro on February 28 with 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil. MARINA’s mandate is to “lead a progressive maritime administration for safer people, safer ships, and cleaner environment.” 

“Considering further that applicant is deemed financially capable to maintain its operations, having complied with the financial standard ratios under the 2014 amendments, and that all documentary requirements are in order and complied with, the Authority hereby amends the certificate of public convenience of applicant, RDC Reield Marine Services, Inc. to effect the permanent addition of the ship/tanker, M/TKR ‘PRINCESS EMPRESS,’ to the company’s fleet,” the document reads.

The certificate, issued on November 16, 2022, also says that the permit will expire on February 6, 2042.


After Tuesday’s hearing but before the PCG released the documents, RDC issued a statement saying November 16, 2022 was the date it “filed the application for amendment,” and it “completed documentary requirements on December 2, 2022.”

That statement was consistent with what was said in the hearing by RDC vice president Fritzie Tee. MARINA Administrator Hernani Fabia told senators that the company’s application was still pending due to financial documents that had yet to be submitted to regulators.

Asked in a News5 interview on Wednesday morning, March 15, a PCG official said it was unable to fully explain the Coast Guard’s side during the hearing due to “pressure in communication.”

“There was just no opportunity to explain further, you saw the situation there,” said PCG oil spill response incident commander Geronimo Tuvilla.

After the MARINA report about MT Princess Empress was read during the hearing, senators criticized the Coast Guard for allowing the ship to sail nine times already, including on February 28 when it left the private port, SL Harbor Terminal, in Limay, Bataan.

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

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

The pre-departure checklist for MT Princess Empress showed seven boxes were unticked, including the CPC requirement, Senator Risa Hontiveros disclosed during Tuesday’s hearing.

PCG maritime safety services commander Joseph Coyme had even said it would conduct administrative investigations, after Senator Raffy Tulfo asserted that Coast Guard officers who cleared MT Princess Empress that day should be charged and put in jail.

Was MT Princess Empress authorized to sail? Permit shown by PCG sows confusion

“Vice Admiral Coyme’s explanation was right. That’s the normal procedure for police and armed forces. What he meant was we won’t tolerate if someone among our ranks commits a violation,” Tuvilla said on Wednesday morning.

“It is painful for us as an organization to be subjected to incomplete information,” he added.

But also on Wednesday morning, MARINA spokesperson Sharon Aledo stood by the agency’s statement that RDC has yet to update its certification.

“They filed an application, but they have yet to comply with all the documentary and qualification requirements, pursuant to the guidelines under the 2014 amendments to Republic Act 9295 or the Domestic Shipping Development Act,” Aledo said in a Teleradyo interview.

Later on Wednesday, PCG spokesman Arman Balilo told reporters that the document it previously posted on social media was the permit given by the company to the Manila station of the PCG.

“As far as we’re concerned, we relied on this document, that’s why we allowed the ship to sail,” Balilo said, adding that the PCG would now investigate to determine whether the permit was authentic.

Senator Hontiveros lamented the “confusion” on Wednesday morning in an interview with DZBB.

“So, what is it? Which of them is right?” she said. “During the hearing, resource persons made an oath to tell only the truth. If not, they may face perjury.”

Pre-departure inspection of domestic vessels is a task of PCG under Republic Act 9993, but limited manpower and resources have made the practice impractical.

The PCG’s mandate to conduct pre-departure inspection of vessels is “no longer practiced in other parts of the world,” now-Coast Guard deputy chief Jay Tristan Tarriela wrote in a 2019 Rappler piece.

“It is about time that our lawmakers pass a dedicated law for the shipping industry that explicitly defines the responsibility and accountability or the shipowners once an incident occurs,” he said.

Was MT Princess Empress authorized to sail? Permit shown by PCG sows confusion
Why the permit issue matters

RDC’s insurance coverage hangs in the balance due to the controversy surrounding MT Princess Empress’ authority to travel.

RDC had said the sunken ship was insured for $1 billion or around P55 billion under a Protection and Indemnity (P&I) coverage.

“If the ship is ‘colorum’ or without an updated CPC, it might not be able to claim indemnity insurance,” Hontiveros said on Wednesday.

Senator Cynthia Villar also pointed out in the hearing that insurance companies usually find a way to justify rejection of insurance claims.

The oil spill in Oriental Mindoro has affected nine towns in the province and 108,000 individuals. A total of 122 people have also fallen ill, local officials said.

The ship was carrying “black oil” which is considered toxic, and authorities are racing to contain the spill. –

IN PHOTOS: Oil spill cleanup in Buhay na Tubig, Oriental Mindoro

IN PHOTOS: Oil spill cleanup in Buhay na Tubig, Oriental Mindoro

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Malacañang, and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.